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Music licences for public performances

The playing of recorded music in a shop or other business premises will usually require permission from the copyright holders. Normally two licences are required, one in respect of the songwriters, composers and/or music publishers’ copyright and one in respect of the copyright in the recording.

In the case of a live performance, the licence of the songwriters, composers and/or music publishers’ will be required unless it of course the rights owner him/herself is performing. A live entertainment licence from the local authority may also be required; see Entertainments licence.

Licences are required to perform a copyright work in public because it is an infringement unless a licence is obtained (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988). For further information on copyright generally, and about collecting societies, see Intellectual property. For information about licences, see below.

What media are covered?
The licences will be required whatever media are used for the playing including CD, radio, television, internet device or telephone (i.e. to callers using the telephone system).

What is “in public”?
“In public” is not defined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 but certain principles have been developed as a result of court decisions over the years, some of which are summarised below.

Any performance which is not domestic or quasi-domestic will be regarded as being made in public notwithstanding that only a few members of the public are present or that no charge for admission is made.

Case law decisions:
* Performance of dance music on premises of a proprietary club where members and guests were admitted was held to be a performance in public (Harms (Inc) Ltd and Chappell & Co Ltd v Martans Club Ltd [1927] 1 Ch 526 at 532–533, CA)
* Performance at a residential hotel open to non-residents who dined held to be in public (Performing Right Society Ltd v Hawthorns Hotel (Bournemouth) Ltd [1933] Ch 855)
* Performance in a private room clearly audible to persons dining in a restaurant held to be in public (Performing Right Society Ltd v Camelo [1936] 3 All ER 557)
* Performance for members of a village institute by members of another institute, no non-members being admitted, held to be in public (Jennings v Stephens [1936] Ch 469, [1936] 1 All ER 409, CA)
* Performance at a factory to workers while working held to be in public (Ernest Turner Electrical Instruments Ltd v Performing Right Society Ltd [1943] Ch 167, [1943] 1 All ER 413, CA)
* Performance of musical works at football supporters' club held to be in public (Performing Right Society Ltd v Rangers Football Club Supporters Club 1974 SLT 151, Ct of Sess.)
* Playing records in a record shop to encourage purchasers to buy held to be an infringement (Performing Right Society Ltd v Harlequin Record Shops Ltd [1979] 2 All ER 828, [1979] 1 WLR 851)
* Playing radio music in workshops at loud volume may be performance in public. A Scottish judge declined to grant an interlocutory (pre-trial) injunction to PRS in a case brought by PRS against Kwik-Fit; however counsel for Kwik-Fit conceded that if copyright music was audibly performed to members of the public or to workers as a group that could well constitute infringement (Performing Right Society Ltd v Kwik-Fit Group Ltd [2007] CSOH 167).

How to obtain a licence
Collection societies exist in developed jurisdictions in order to facilitate the administration of licences and the collection of royalties on behalf of the owners of the rights.

In the UK, one collection society is the MCPS-PRS Alliance Limited which operates under the “PRS for Music” brand (formerly the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society /Performing Right Society). It is a non-profit making company whose members are songwriters, composers and music publishers.

Further information about licences and generally is available from the PRS for Music website

Phonographic Performance Limited trading as “ PPL” licenses recorded music played in public or broadcast on the radio or TV and is the collection society for its performer and record company members. Information about licences and other matters is available from the PPL website.

The playing of recorded music “in public” (see above) will generally require both a PRS for Music licence and a PPL licence. For a live performance, a PRS for Music licence may be required but not a PPL licence. A local authority Entertainments licence may be required.

Music videos: the licensing of music videos played in public or broadcast on TV is dealt with by Video Performance Limited trading as “VPL” which is PPL's sister company. Information is available on the VPL website.

Tacit consent:  tacit consent does not apply because the music licences are required for private rights and are not public authorisations required from the state.

Licence free music
The playing of music which is out of copyright or otherwise licence free will not require a licence. Further information is available from the Creative Commons website, or by making a general internet search on "royalty free music".

Legaleze comment: PRS for Music has in recent years actively promoted its brand and enforced its members' royalty rights by pursuing many types of shops, businesses and organisations where music is played (at least in the view of PRS) in public.

Such places have included horse stables, police forces, an employee singing in a convenience store and others. In deciding whether your business requires a licence, the meaning of a performance of music “in public" as described above should be considered and the FAQs on the PRS for Music website consulted.

PRS for Music indicates that it may waive the licence requirement for workers working by themselves. The same applies where employees listen to music via personal devices through headphones. Although PRS for Music may indicate that it "waives” the licence fee in these circumstances, it is very doubtful that it has the right to charge a licence fee because there is no public performance.

It would also appear that there is a general lack of awareness, particularly by SMEs, that to play recorded music in public requires both a PRS for music licence and PPL licence.

[Page updated: 02/12/2013]

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