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Anger at OFT ban on price advice for freelance musicians

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Exclusive: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has urged the chief executive of Arts Council England to challenge the Office of Fair Trading, after the OFT ruled that the publication of advice on fees for freelance composers and musicians was “anti-competitive” and would lead to prosecution.

In a letter sent to arts council head Peter Hewitt and seen by The Stage, the Master of the Queen’s Music, writing as a fellow of the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters, warns that the OFT is making it “impossible for legitimate trade associations to go about the entirely proper business of giving advice to their members in an area where they are frequently extremely vulnerable”.

The Academy, as well as the Incorporated Society of Musicians and others, has recently had to stop publishing annual commission fee guidelines for members after the OFT said this infringed the 1998 Competition Act, which was originally designed to stop price fixing. It is feared that other organisations which publish advice for freelances, such as the Musicians Union, will be targeted next.

Sir Peter has asked the arts council to intervene on behalf of composers and musicians by calling on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to bring all the affected organisations under its umbrella and find a solution to the problem with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Academy bosses said the OFT’s interpretation of the law was “outrageous” and would render trade organisations like itself obsolete. Chief executive Chris Green told The Stage: “This is about a colourless civil service department, with nothing better to do, looking at the Competition Act and saying all these composers out there are being anti-competitive.

“We work with a very vulnerable community who earn very little and are struggling to do what they do, who desperately need a bit of advice when someone says ‘come and write some music for us’ and they have no idea how much to charge. I can’t believe it’s in the public’s interest to do that, let alone in composers’ interests. It’s utterly pathetic.”

The OFT said the law was intended to tackle anti-competitive agreements and if fees were not set individually, they could not be seen as competitive.

A spokesman said: “Our role is to look at the law, which we have done. We don’t think this is compatible with the law. We are not saying we are going to take any action – ultimately it would be for any third party to go to court and it would be for the courts to rule.”

The arts council said it was in the process of seeking advice from competition law specialists but that the issue might have to be resolved at a European level because the Act was based on an EU agreement.

An ACE spokesman said: “This relates to the application in domestic law of a treatise agreed at European level which deems it unlawful to have price or fee-fixing, where the law is very stark. We are in the process of seeking further advice from competition law specialists to see what can be done within the current legislation and whether we can find some way to help deal with the legitimate and understandable concerns of people in the music and arts sector generally. But it is a complicated issue and the UK government won’t be able to do it all itself if the interpretation of EU competition law is as we fear it to be.”

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