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Your Voice - Paying for a music licence is about to become easier

Unless you employ Gareth Malone and have a pool of vocally talented workers to provide some harmonic background noise, as a workplace that chooses to play music you probably put on the radio. One of the lesser known obligations of businesses is the requirement to buy licences in order to play music at their place of work. For many years the presence of two companies enforcing copyright has added to the confusion, but moves are afoot to start simplifying the process.
One of the familiar calls we get to our helpline is around the requirements to purchase not one but two music licences in order to play music at work. What is being played, to whom and to how many has meant a great deal of confusion to our members - but a few successful challenges on behalf of them - over the years.

This area of law can be incredibly complex. Take the case of one member running a small garage. When the mechanics turned on the engine of a customer’s car the radio had been left on. As a result music played across the business. The Forum successfully backed the company in its fight to not pay a music licence for those short bursts of unwanted and unexpected radio music.

There are two sets of ‘rights’ involved with the music industry, those of song composers and those of song performers. Because having every artist, record company and performer chasing their own rights would understandably cause bedlam, they are grouped under the term ‘collective licensing’ and represented by two associations.

PRS for Music and PPL licensing are two independent schemes that represent the interests of different rights holders for the use of recorded and live music in public performances. PRS for Music collects and distributes licence fees for the use of musical compositions and lyrics on behalf of composers and music publishers. PPL collects and distributes licence fees for the use of recorded music on behalf of record companies and performers.
How this manifests itself to a business is normally through calls from one or other of the organisations. The Forum has sat in call centres with PRS for Music and advised on occasion on how to make the approach easier to handle for small businesses. However, like any unsolicited call, we recognise that those running a business can better spend their time elsewhere. So the bigger issue for us is why there isn’t closer work between the two organisations to make the process of becoming compliant easier.

Following pressure from business groups and the government the two organisations are at last launching a joint licence to cover factories, offices and garages with four or fewer employees and where music is not audible to customers, visitors or guests. The scheme will launch on 1 December and the annual cost for a joint music licence, for all eligible businesses, will be £88 +VAT. Significantly, there will be just one organisation to deal with and one fee to pay.

Whilst we would love to do away with the charge completely, the fact of the matter is that if music is played at work, these licences are part of the law. The Forum has worked hard for members to ensure that the cost and compliance is minimised so we are pleased to see this step. However, we don’t view it as an end point, more the first step towards a much bigger simplification of this complicated area.
If you think you are being unfairly charged for playing music in the workplace do get in touch so the Forum team can take up your case.

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