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Lost in music, caught in a trap

Blog post

Written by
Anthony Collins Solicitors
9th July 2020

Recently we advised a Co‑operatives UK member as to whether they needed permission to play music in their premises. In this article, we share some useful information about the authorisations needed should your co‑op be playing music or other media in co‑op premises. 

Do we need a music licence?

If you use, play or perform music in your co‑operative, the chances are you need a music licence.

Music has the power to connect people from all walks of life. It can be a tool to prompt long‑lost memories, generate debate about social issues or simply provide a calming environment for someone at a time of distress. However, it is important to understand your legal obligations because once you turn on the radio or plug in a playlist there’s no turning back.

Permission is needed from the copyright holders – generally those who create, record and publish music – to play or perform music in public or at business premises. This permission is administered by Performing Right Society (“PRS”) and Phonographic Performance Limited (“PPL”) who collect and distribute money on behalf of performers, record companies, songwriters, composers and music publishers.

But we are not a business…

Whilst it is tempting to think of a “business” as being an organisation run ‘for profit’ the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 explains that permission is needed to play or perform music in public. Therefore, even if the premises are used for activities which are not concerned with a trade or profession (a community hall, theatre or charity’s office for example), a licence will still be necessary to play background music on a CD, radio or music channel, stage a live event or to play recorded music or sound recordings.

But we are not open to the public…

Based on UK care law, "public" includes any presentation of music outside of a domestic setting. Therefore, anyone playing or performing music other than in a domestic setting will need a licence.

But we only occupy part of the building or rent the space from someone else…

Where music is played in public without permission, the person operating the equipment used to play it will generally be liable for damages, injunctions and potentially 3 months’ imprisonment and/or a fine. Anyone authorising the music to be played in public without permission will also be liable for the infringement.

‘Authorisation’ can be express or implied which means that those with management responsibility at the premises, or persons or organisations that have responsibility for the operation of the premises, could, therefore, potentially be in breach of copyright.

What about films and television where we don’t charge? Do we need a tv licence?

If you are playing film recordings you will probably need a licence from the Motion Picture Licensing Company (“MPLC”) which grants licences in respect of films and tv shows from the major Hollywood studios. As a general rule, it is irrelevant whether you have charged the audience for admission.

A TV licence will be required where you watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV, on any channel, watch or stream programmes live on an online TV service (such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, etc.) or download or watch any BBC programmes on iPlayer.

If you intend to play music, film or tv recordings at your premises it is important that you consider and arrange the necessary licences along with the potential discounts that might apply to your co‑operative.

Have any questions?

Our Advice Team has supported co‑operatives with their governance, HR, finance and membership for more than 20 years.
The advice provided by Anthony Collins was obtained as part of Co‑operatives UK contact package.
The contact package provides a range of support to members of Co‑operatives UK
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