• GUEST BLOG: Is your business playing music illegally?

    960 640 Stuart O'Brien

    By John Hannen, Digital Marketing Executive, MediaWorks

    You’ve probably seen the latest advert from PRS – it’s usually played before films in the cinema, which starts in a barber shop – proceeding to cover a range of locations where music is played to the general public.

    However, what the advert highlights is that more often than not, music is played illegally, and most of the time you won’t notice that this is happening. If you’re playing music to the general public, then it’s important to know the rules around this (often difficult to understand) part of the law. Together with specialist PA system installers GPS Installations – we have produced this go-to guide for anyone who is unsure when playing music in a public space.

    Why do I need a music license?

    Music licenses, and the law surrounding them, is based around the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Within this document, it is stated that anyone who makes use of copyright music in public must first obtain the permission of every writer and composer for the music they intend to play.

    How do I know if my business needs a local license?

    There are many different scenarios when playing music is considered a public performance. These include playing music through a set of computer speakers – on a CD player, on a television, or through a radio station broadcast.

    The collecting society PRS for Music represents around 10 million songs from a variety of different genres – so, there’s a good chance that you’ll be playing a song from their own database.

    Take note that the music industry considers these types of venues when evaluating whether music has been played illegally:

    • Charity and community buildings.
    • Cinema complexes.
    • Clubs (whether a social, members or night club).
    • Educational establishments.
    • Hair and beauty organisations (capturing both salons and spas).
    • Health practices.
    • Hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs.
    • Fitness, leisure and sport facilities.
    • Mobile businesses.
    • Music played when customers are put on hold during a call.
    • Offices and factories.
    • Pubs and bars.
    • Restaurants and cafes.
    • Shops and retail stores.
    • Sports grounds and stadia.
    • Across transport businesses.

    Are there any exceptions?

    In certain instances a PRS for Music license isn’t necessary, and these circumstances include:

    • Music that holds no copyright — this is when a rightsholder has decided that those playing their music do not need a license.
    • Copyright music whereby the rightsholder has not assigned or licensed the performing rights — in these cases, businesses will need to obtain permission directly from the rightsholder in order to make use of the music in question. Alternatively, the rightsholder may have provided the licence required to the music service provider, and this will be the place to contact.
    • Music that is out of copyright – in these instances, you can purchase sheet music of the performance and nobody legally holds the right to the musical performance.
    • Music specially written for dramatic performances — permission to perform this music will need to be requested directly from the rights holder, and examples include ballets, musicals and operas.

    How much does a music licence cost?

    There is no clear answer to this question. PRS for Music provides in excess of 40 different tariffs, that delve into a wide range of ways that business play music to their customers.

    This has been done to ensure that the collecting society only every provides licensing tariffs that are fair to both the rightsholder and the music user alike.

    We advise that you conduct thorough research before you apply for a licence, as tariff charges are both thorough and complex. There, you will be able to accurately locate the right licence for your needs.


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien