The FRMS has been asked by a number of societies to provide guidance on the use of download and streaming services. This is a field where practices are changing almost on a monthly basis, and definitive guidance is perhaps consequently hard to provide; but as a statement of general principles this may be of assistance.

In the first place there is the issue of downloaded files, often of complete CDs, on platforms such as YouTube but also many other forums, some of which charge for their services and some of which are free. Now it is a simple fact that if a buyer of a CD puts his or her purchase out on one of these platforms for others to listen to, download or record, this is a breach of copyright and illegal. Some record companies do permit YouTube to license performances for issue on their site, either for publicity purposes or because they are not proposing to issue the recordings commercially; but it is practically impossible to identify these, if only because fake statements that a recording has been so licensed are so easy to make. The result of this is simply that the performers, the record company and (if the music is still in copyright) the composer get paid absolutely nothing for the use of their work. In one such instance a couple of years ago, a comment was posted on the site: "thanks for performing, recording and uploading it; a labour of love and much appreciated". The response from the producer clarifies the position admirably: "I'm not sure if your thanks are directed purely at the uploader but if they are also directed at the pianist, the recording engineer and the owner of the recording company, all of whom did a little work too, then I thank you for your encouragement, also on behalf of the others involved. I wish I could thank you for supporting the enterprise by buying the discs (readily obtainable on Amazon and other places, also as track-by-track downloads if you don't want everything) but presumably you didn't buy them. I wonder if it occurs to those who get their music via unauthorized uploads of copyright material, that if you bought the discs, the recording company would be better placed to issue other similar material."

As the aggrieved producer commented, there are also downloads available to purchase from Amazon and other online retailers, which can include the facility to choose individual tracks if the buyer is not interested in the other items on the disc. These are perfectly legal (indeed they are the commonest means of sale now in the field of pop music) and full royalties are paid to everybody involved. But sometimes there is a compromise in quality as compared with the commercially released CDs, which may not be so noticeable in pop music but can be quite serious in complicated 'classical' scores. Some companies therefore advertise high-resolution downloads, which can cost more - indeed, sometimes more than the physical CDs themselves - while at the same time the provision of background information from the CD booklets can be very patchy. (Of course, some record companies shoot themselves in the foot here by failing to provide booklet notes even with their commercial releases.) Similarly, there can be no objections to the purchaser of a CD transferring individual tracks to a CD-ROM or something similar for the purposes of convenience when playing a track either on their own equipment or as part of a public recital - provided that the royalties due to the performer have been paid, and the venue or organisation holds a suitable license from PRS/PPL.

Perhaps most problematic of all are the streaming services, some free (that is, financed by advertising) and some charging monthly or annual subscriptions, of which the first example was Spotify but which has now been joined by a considerable and growing number of rivals. Here, after some protest, the organisations concerned agreed to make a royalty payment to the performers, composers where appropriate, and the record companies; but the amounts involved are relatively miniscule compared to those received from sales of physical products (CDs, DVDs, LPs or whatever) or purchased downloads. Listening to classical music on a site which carries adverts can be a horrendous experience, as the adverts will frequently be inserted between tracks in a totally random fashion which can (for example) jar horribly between movements of a symphony or a concerto, or even worse in the course of an opera. And the quality of the sound often is quite unsatisfactory, as the mp3 format removes much of the subtlety which is such an essential part of classical music; Spotify and others do provide higher resolution services without advertising, but charge heavily for the service. And then of course the payment of royalties to the performers etc is no better; and some high-profile names refuse in consequence to allow their recordings to appear on such platforms altogether, including some companies largely specialising in the classical field such as Hyperion and Dutton.

In response to this it has been objected that the large record companies don't mind the loss of revenue, since the availability of these recordings acts as valuable publicity to promote the consequent sales of their CDs. Well, we take leave to doubt that proposition, the more so since there are a number of applications available on the internet which enable listeners to simply copy the files onto their own computers without making any payment whatsoever (some of these, we are told, are highly unreliable, simply ceasing to work after a given period of time). But even so it is not really the large record companies who are worst affected. Many of the new releases which are most welcome are of music rescued from undeserved obscurity by various small and small-ish producers, most of whom operate on a shoestring budget and will often release a CD with no expectation of immediate profit. If potential purchasers find that they can obtain the same recordings (from legal or illegal sources) for minimal or no payment, then these companies will simply find that they are no longer able to fund new recordings at all. The views of the record companies themselves vary on this issue; BIS, for example, issue all their recordings on Spotify, while Hyperion (as already noted) refuse to make any tracks available. Some others, such as Chandos, make available only certain CDs, mainly those that are no longer commercially for sale; some, like Supraphon, allow Spotify to place certain tracks on their site but then delete others (while continuing to list them) effectively forcing those interested to buy the CD. Even so one has to bear in mind that it is the artists and composers who are the most short-changed by these arrangements, more seriously so than the record companies; and the majority of those, certainly in the classical field, are financially damaged thereby.

Where the streaming and download services do provide a most valuable resource is in the field of recordings that have been deleted or allowed to go out of circulation by the originating companies or performers. Many labels nowadays employ alarmingly short initial print runs and then simply continue to make the issues available only on Spotify, Qobuz or other platforms. Under the circumstances one can only assume that they are no longer concerned about the often paltry returns they get from the occasional listener, or that the income generated in terms of quantity is sufficient to provide a return on their initial investment. It would be foolish in the extreme to overlook such a resource (which extends in some cases to wholesale availability of material from otherwise generally unobtainable labels such as Marco Polo), always bearing in mind that as a general rule one would expect the music played at society meetings should be readily available to listeners who wish to acquire the recordings after hearing them.

But, in the end, it is not as if we are seriously short of a huge range of classical music available on CD, to an extent that would have exceeded our wildest dreams twenty or thirty years ago. It should be possible to present a programme of recorded music without the need to explore the murky underworld of online pirated recordings (and there are plenty of those being offered for sale on CD anyway)! Regarding streaming services, these will have a place where commercial CDs have been deleted (let alone some non-copyright sites which offer variable quality transcripts of BBC and live recordings or rare material) but we would not expect societies to present anything which would infringe the terms of their PRS/PPL licenses, whether obtained through the FRMS or from the venues themselves.