Note: Copyright law is technical and uses terms and concepts with which most people are not familiar. PRS for Music tries to explain the legal requirement in clear terms for its customers. Please refer to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 for full details or seek independent legal advice.
1. Start at the beginning…
When a song or piece of music is written, the person who wrote it owns the copyright and therefore has the right to decide how and when it should be played. Music is released, allowing individuals to purchase a song which they can play at home. However, if an individual then wishes to play that song to a wider group of people (for example on their business or organisation’s premises) it is classed as a ‘public performance’. If you want to make a ‘public performance’ you must first seek permission from the copyright owner of that song before you do so. This permission is known as a licence.
2. Who or what is PRS for Music?
PRS for Music is the trading name of the Performing Right Society Ltd. The ‘public performance right’ is one of the elements of copyright.
PRS for Music is a not-for-profit membership organisation which collects licence fees from music users, and distributes these as royalties to writers and publishers of music from the UK and around the world.
By law, under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended), if you play (perform) copyright music in public (i.e. outside of your home or domestic life), you must first obtain permission from the owner of the copyright in every piece of music that you intend to play. This means you would have to contact potentially thousands of music writers, composers and publishers worldwide to obtain their agreement to play their songs in your business or organisation.
To make things easy, PRS for Music was set up (in 1914) in the UK by songwriters, composers and music publishers to manage these rights on their behalf.
Organisations like PRS for Music exist in almost every country in the world. PRS for Music has reciprocal agreements with many of these organisations, allowing us to license the use of their music in the UK.
A Music Licence permits you to play over 10 million pieces of music, from the UK and around the world.
3. What is a ‘public performance’?
Music is performed ‘in public’ when it is performed outside what could be regarded as the domestic circle or home life. This includes music performances – of live and recorded music or music from TV and radio – in premises from concert halls to corner shops.
For example, the composer’s audience in a workplace would be people at work, whether in an office or staff canteen, a factory or the kitchen of a restaurant. A workplace is obviously not a domestic environment and therefore a Music Licence is required if our copyright music is being used.
4. What does PRS for Music do for its members?
PRS for Music is a not-for-profit membership society. Music creators – writers, composers, publishers – join PRS for Music and give us permission to license to use of their music. PRS for Music issues licences on their behalf to premises and events all over the UK.
All licence fees collected are distributed as royalty payments to our 95,000 members and to our affiliated societies worldwide. PRS for Music only deducts its administration costs.
Many of our members are small businesses who rely on their income from royalties.
5. How does PRS for Music know who to pay?
Where possible PRS for Music will ask for the full details of what music is being played – for concert venues we ask that details of all the music being performed are supplied, enabling direct distribution straight to the right-holders of the music. In addition, we get detailed information from most TV and radio broadcasters.
With smaller businesses, such as hairdressers, restaurants, shops and pubs – music researchers collect details of music use from a continually changing selection of premises. From these details we calculate what proportion of the money to pay each member.
View more information about how we distribute our members’ royalties.
6. What does PRS for Music do for the music users?
Music users require permission from the rights holder of every piece of music they want to play. Collecting societies, like PRS for Music, exist to simplify the arrangement between the millions of music-users who require permission and the music creators who can provide a licence.
By obtaining a Music Licence and paying the appropriate fee, a music user can legally use any copyright music that PRS for Music controls – which means just about all the copyright music in the world!
7. What is a Music Licence and is it required by law?
A Music Licence is what you will need to purchase from PRS for Music for the public performance of music in any business, venue or live event.
The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 states that if you use copyright music in public, you must first obtain the permission of every writer or composer of the music you intend to play. PRS for Music represents these copyright owners and so a Music Licence gives you the legal permission to play any copyright music controlled by us. A Music licence is required regardless of the ownership of any other type of licence.
8. Why do I need a Music Licence?
A Music Licence is required whenever there is a public performance of copyright music we control. You need to obtain a Music Licence covering all public performances of our music in your premises or at your sites or events.
9. What do you mean when you refer to 'our music'?
The term 'our music' refers to the music controlled by PRS for Music.
The majority of copyright music from the UK, and around the world, is controlled by PRS for Music in the UK. This includes everything from advertising jingles to entire symphonies.
A Music Licence grants you the legal permission to play millions of songs, saving you the time and money needed to gain permission from the music creators directly.
When a music-creator becomes a member of PRS for Music, they give us exclusive permission to license the public performance of their works. Therefore, you can’t get a licence to play those works from anyone else.
10. Is there any music which isn’t covered by a licence from PRS for Music?
A licence from PRS for Music covers the majority of copyright music being played, but there is some music which is not covered by your PRS for Music licence, or for which you do not require a PRS for Music licence.
A licence from PRS for Music does not cover:
- Music which is out of copyright (see How long does Copyright last?). Please note that music, where the original composition is out of copyright, may be performed in a copyright arrangement and, in this case, a licence may be required. Details about the arrangement are normally available on the musical score or with the music recording you have purchased.
- Copyright music where the rights holders have not assigned or licensed the performing rights to PRS for Music or to one of our overseas affiliates (whose rights we represent and control in the UK). To use this music, you may need to get permission from the rights holders directly, or the rights holder may have given a licence to a music service provider.
- “Copyright-free” music where the music is in copyright but the rights holder does not require the user to obtain any additional licence. This is most common where copyright material is used for educational purposes.
- Music which is specially written for dramatic performances, such as musicals, operas and ballets (also known as Grand Right works). To use this music, you need to get permission from the rights holder directly, which is usually the music publisher.
If you believe you may be using music which does not require a PRS for Music licence, you can call us for advice and further information about the music which is covered by our licence. If you wish to use music, which is advertised as not requiring a licence from PRS for Music, you should take reasonable steps to ensure that the music is correctly licensed. Please note that some music which is not controlled by PRS for Music may become controlled by PRS for Music, if the rights holder assigns their rights to PRS for Music or one of our affiliates at a later date.
11. How many people make up an audience?
The composer’s audience isn’t just people sat in an audience at a formal concert. Their audience includes anyone listening to their music outside the domestic circle or home life.
There is no statutory minimum of people required to constitute an audience. However, in some cases, PRS for Music does not charge a licence fee to workplaces with a single (lone) worker.
12. Who decides how much PRS for Music should charge for a licence?
PRS for Music currently has over 40 tariffs applying to different types of premises and events. The tariffs take into account the nature and extent of music use in different premises and events.
PRS for Music and its members can determine the fee for their licence. However, wherever possible, we agree our charges with national trade associations or representative bodies from particular sectors.
In addition, PRS for Music tariffs and the terms and conditions of its licences are subject to referral to and scrutiny by the Copyright Tribunal.
13. Who has to have a Music Licence?
Any location or premises, outside of home, where music is played from clubs to concert halls, from discos to dentists’ waiting rooms and from trains to takeaways. The owner/proprietor of the premises is normally responsible for obtaining a Music Licence for the public performance of copyright music.
14. What happens if I don’t obtain a Music Licence?
If you do not obtain a Music Licence, the performance of copyright music in public would be unauthorised and may constitute an infringement of copyright within the meaning of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended). PRS for Music takes all reasonable steps to assist a music-user in applying for a Music Licence. However, if a music-user does not obtain a licence, PRS for Music may take legal action for infringement of the performing right. You may have to pay costs and damages if PRS for Music has to take legal action.