Am I Required To Have A Music License If I Have A Radio In My Workshop?

23 July 2013

Unfortunately, if you are playing music in a public place (and this includes workshops and reception areas) then you will be required to have both a PRS and a PPL license. The requirement is backed up in a piece of legislation known as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The PRS and the PPL are two separate entities, one of which looks after the writers, the other looking after the record company and performers, hence the need for two separate licenses.

•    The PRS (formerly the Performing Rights Society) are an organisation who collect and pay royalties to their members when their music is exploited in one of a number of ways, for example when it is recorded onto any format and distributed to the public, performed or played in public, broadcast or publicly available online.

•    PPL (formerly the Phonographic Performance Limited) is a music licensing company who collect and pay royalties on behalf of performer and record companies. They serve the owners of the copyright of the recording and licence sound recordings and music videos for use in broadcast.

Following a recent drive to ensure that as many organisations as possible obtain a music licence, many SMEs will have been introduced to PRS through a phone call or a letter threatening legal action unless they purchase a license, with additional costs if they do not do so immediately. Consequently, both the PRS and PPL have been unpopular amongst many small businesses and the music licence is a frequent topic on the BWF member helpline, with companies often unaware of the requirement. Recent controversial cases relating to the licence have included the PRS’s decision to pursue a woman who sang whilst stacking shelves at her local shop , and a £150 yearly bill for a mechanic who worked alone with his radio on.

The costs of a PRS license to a business are decided in part by the business hours and number of staff, with both organisations allowing a facility to pay for a licence on their websites, together with guidance to help you work out how much it would cost your business. This could help you determine whether such a license is worthwhile.

There is some controversy over the costs and nature of the music license:

•    Radio stations already pay a large amount in royalties to both PRS and PPL for the records that they play, and the costs of a music licence will often, even for the smallest businesses, far exceed those of a television license. This has raised accusations of profiteering.

•    The requirement for a music license also covers most ‘talk radio’ stations and BBC stations, which is a cause of some anger (in addition to music played when calls are put on hold, and any music that hasn’t been confirmed as royalty-free).

•    It is also a source of frustration for members to have to pay retrospective costs for a requirement that the majority of them were previously unaware of.

Both organisations would respond by saying that their members are making a valued contribution to your business, and that using any copyright material, without paying for it, is illegal.

In any case, members of PRS and PPL have heavily lobbied government to ensure that their interests are well protected, and the license requirement and fees are unlikely to become any less restrictive. Recent lobbying from record companies has already ensured that, from the beginning of this year, even not-for-profit organisations (community halls, charities, voluntary organisations, and government buildings) are required to pay PPL license fees.

Members who feel that they require a music licence are advised to ensure that are buying the licences direct, as there are a number of rogue operators and agents who have been targeting small business and claiming to sell music licenses, but are either overcharging or providing a worthless service.

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