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A PRO works by first signing up artists to become members, and then bargaining with the users of the artists' copyrights (directly or through the users' representatives) the royalty rate to be paid for such use. Without a PRO, it would be necessary for each artist to contract with each user individually.
In the U.S., PROs are often criticised for using heavy-handed tactics to "extort" money from stores which play music, sending lawyers in to demand payment "or else" — even having federal marshals raid stores to take money from the registers. They have also been accused of being cartels. ASCAP is in fact operating under a 1950 antitrust consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, amended in 1960 and 2000, regulating to some extent what tactics it may use.
They have also been criticised for charging non-profit organisations for their use of the music, despite the fact it is not for any commercial or money-earning purpose. ASCAP was ridiculed into retreat when it tried to charge the Girl Scouts of America for singing campfire songs. ASCAP and SESAC also charge non-commerical educational (NCE) radio stations for playing copyrighted music, even though those stations are not making any profit, and are in fact spending their own money to promote the artists represented by ASCAP and SESAC. This has been a source of ire at college radio stations across the U.S., which rely entirely on student and listener support for funding, and can little afford having extra fees tacked on.
At times, PROs have also been criticised by artists for slow or non-existent payments, or excessive amounts being taken out and kept by the PRO as membership dues or service fees.