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Music in the workplace - PRS and PPL explained

The cost of music in the workplace has long been a bone of contention for business owners. Many small businesses thought that by purchasing a licence from PRS for Music they had fully complied with copyright legislation. However, this may not be the case as you may also need a licence from the Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL).

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We have received an increased number of calls to our member helpline recently about the confusing issue of performing rights, and have also been made aware of campaigns to target small businesses.

Businesses report receiving calls from PRS for Music asking whether they play music in the workplace. If they answer 'YES', they are then advised that they are liable to pay a licence fee. As other members of staff may be answering the phones, you may wish to brief them to refer any such calls to yourself so you can deal with them.

Below is a guide to the different types of licences you may need:

PRS and PPL: What’s the difference?

Both bodies licence music; however, they are not the same. Whenever a sound recording is played in public, there are two separate licence fees that are payable:

  • A copyright in the musical and lyrical composition 
  • A separate copyright in the actual sound recording. 

One payment goes to PPL, which distributes it to record companies and performers. The other payment goes to PRS, which distributes it to composers and publishers.

If music is broadcast, the general rule is that the business should be licensed by either or both. 

PRS for Music

According to PRS for Music, a tariff for 'music in the workplace' applies "to the mechanical performance of copyright music within the Society's repertoire as a background to work, meals, 'stand-down times' and breaks at work places such as offices, factories, canteens and rest rooms.” 

For hold music, or music at staff social or sports clubs, these are chargeable under a different tariff. For more definitions and types of licence, visit www.prsformusic.com

Phonographic Performance Ltd

According to PPL, you need one of their licenses if “you play recorded music or music videos in public – including radio or TV – you will almost certainly be legally required to have a PPL licence”.

The cost of a PPL licence will depend on factors such as business type, the size of the area in your business that music can be heard in and how recorded music is used. To find out more go to www.ppluk.com.

Can I get a joint licence?

Yes, from December 2013 businesses with four or fewer employees in a factory, office or garage, where music is not audible to customers, visitors or guests have been able to apply for a licence that incorporates both PRS and PPL.

Under this arrangement, PRS for Music acts as an agent for PPL, issuing the new joint music licence that grants you the permission you need from both organisations to play recorded music.

New customers of both PRS for Music and PPL can obtain their joint music licence by calling 0845 140 0090. Eligible customers can request the joint music licence on the date of their next annual renewal.

What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t get a PRS or PPL license?

If you play music in your business or want to include it in your product, you need clearance to do so from the owners of that music.

If you do not obtain clearance for your use of copyright music, you could face legal action for copyright infringement and may become liable to pay damages and costs.

The rates and/or charges applicable are entirely dependent on the nature of usage of the music and type of location where it is broadcast.

Are there alternatives to paying for a PRS/PPL licence?

There is an option to buy royalty free music to use, for example, on your hold music. And there are even royalty free radio stations, but whether these are to your taste – or any cheaper than a licence for your business would be – is a matter of personal opinion. 

And finally...

PRS for Music and PPL work to strict codes of conduct, meaning that they shouldn’t treat businesses unfairly. Usually you will be notified of a visit from one of their agents, and the first visit should only be an introduction rather than a pressured visit.

If you’re a member of the Forum and would like further advice or to tell us about your experience with either PRS or PPL, you can call us on 0845 130 1722.

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