Paying for Music




“I have been called by a company and told that I need to pay them to listen to the radio, but I thought the radio was free. Are they correct?”


It seems as if it is that time of year again. Over the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of garages being contacted by performing rights societies. Are these demands for payment legitimate, and if so why are we liable to pay them?


Who are they?


There are two companies: PPL, who generally act on behalf of the performers of or those recording the music; and PRS, who generally act on behalf of the writers, composers and publishers.


Both PRS and PPL are royalty collection societies. They were established to collect royalties from music created by their members and to distribute the proceeds. If you require a licence from one, you will require a licence from both.


In fact in 2018 the y formed a joint venture in order to simplify the process and offer one license, TheMusicLicence, to cover both activities.


Why do I need to pay them?


When a song or piece of music is written, the person who writes it owns it. This is called copyright. Most performers allow CD and broadcast through the radio or television for private use only. If the music is to be performed in public, permission is needed from the rights holders before each song is performed


So what constitutes 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 has been the cause of a number of cases and can be complicated. In its most basic form the question is :-


  1. Whether the performance was in a public place; and/or
  2. Whether more than one person can hear the performance.


It is likely that playing music in either a waiting room or in a workshop, where more than one person can hear it, will be a public performance.


What are the options?


  1. Stop listening to the radio. If there is no music playing there is no requirement for a licence.
  2. Allow staff to listen to their own music through personal players and headphones. This is a simple option and cost effective, but care should be taken to assess the risk in your workplace when considering this. Depending on the work environment, listening to music on headphones can carry a risk greater than the cost of a licence.
  3. Continue to listen to music without a licence. Both PRS and PPL are required to prove their case in court. Where this is in a workplace it can be difficult. However, this is a risky course of conduct as, in the event this can be proven, compensation can be backdated, and if proceedings are issued any fees are likely to be recoverable as well.
  4. Buy a licence- If purchased in advance in most cases the cost of a licence can be minimal if considered on a daily basis.


As always this advice is general in nature and will need to be tailored to any one particular situation. Whichever course of conduct you choose, it is advisable to review the websites for PRS and PPL. Also, as an RMI member you have access to the RMI Legal advice line, as well as a number of industry experts for your assistance. Should you find yourself in the situation above, contact us at any stage for advice and assistance as appropriate.



Motor Industry Legal Services


Motor Industry Legal Services (MILS Solicitors) provides fully comprehensive legal advice and representation to UK motor retailers for one annual fee. It is the only law firm in the UK which specialises in motor law and motor trade law. MILS currently advises over 1,000 individual businesses within the sector as well as the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI) and its members.