Advice: What licences do you need for music?

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Music licences: Make sure you know the law
Music licences: Make sure you know the law

Related tags Music Royalties Nightclub

Music in your bar or club is one of the most important elements of the entertainment you provide to your customers — you wouldn’t visit a nightclub if there was no music.

Many operators are not aware that their obligations to licence music at their premises do not end with ensuring that recorded music is authorised by their premises licence.

If you are playing or intending to play recorded music in your licensed premises then not only do you need to ensure that you have permission for recorded music included on your premises licence, you will also need to ensure that you have the necessary licences from Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) and the Performing Rights Society (PRS) should these be required.

PPL and PRS licences are required where there is the ‘playing of recorded music in public’ and this would obviously apply to pubs, bars and clubs playing recorded music for the benefit of their customers. PRS licences also apply to live music and so this may be another consideration. There are a number exemptions for charities and non-profitmaking organisations, but these would not apply to businesses such as pubs or nightclubs which are profit-making businesses.


Normally two licences will be required, one from PPL and one from PRS, to entitle you to play recorded music in your premises or ‘in public’. Both PPL and PRS are independent companies set up to licence recorded music and collect royalties for the music industry. The difference between the two organisations is that PPL collect and distribute money on behalf of record companies and performers and PRS does the same on behalf of authors, songwriters, composers and publishers.

Every time recorded music is ‘played in public’ the permission of the owner of the copyright is required and this is why PPL/PRS were introduced. While it may seem like an unnecessary burden to obtain further licences separately from the permission on your premises licence, if these organisations did not exist you could potentially be faced with the task of having to contact every single recording manager to ask for their permission to play their music.

These companies are therefore in place to make the playing of recorded music legally easier for you while also protecting those in the music industry and ensuring that they get their fair share of royalties.


If you are unsure as to whether you require either of these licences, the best thing to do would be to contact both the PPL and PRS by telephone and discuss the requirements with them — they will be able to advise you if a licence is required, but it is important that you contact both organisations to ensure that you are correctly licensed.

If a licence is required then it is also possible for you make the application for these over the telephone or online. Once you have made your application(s), providing that they have all of the information, the company will send you an invoice for payment of the required fee. The fee for each licence varies depending on certain factors such as the type of business; the size of the business and also how you play the music (eg, background music, DJs etc.) Once payment of the invoice has been received by PPL/PRS they will grant the licence. Once the required licence(s) have been granted then you are permitted to play recorded music (so long as you have the necessary permission on your premises licence).


If your premises licence does not authorise the playing of recorded music you will need to consider a variation. There are changes due in April which deregulate recorded music on some occasions, which may affect this, but this is a complicated area and so you should seek legal advice.

If it is found that you should have a PPL and/or PRS licence and are playing recorded music without the necessary permissions, you will be infringing copyright. If this is the case then you could potentially face legal proceedings as a result of the infringement.

In these circumstances you could be ordered by a court to pay your outstanding licence fees as well as any legal costs incurred by PPL and/or PRS and damages awarded. The court can also issue an injunction which would stop you playing recorded music at your premises until such time as the outstanding fees/costs are settled and the correct licence(s) obtained.


Recently, following an inspection, a nightclub has been forced to stop playing recorded music as they did not have the correct PPL licence in place. The court has issued an injunction against them and ordered them to pay the legal costs of PPL as well as the operator’s licence fees due.

If the injunction and order to pay costs are not complied with and an operator continues playing recorded music or does not settle the outstanding fees/costs then this would be classed as a contempt of court. An individual who is convicted of this offence could face a maximum fine of £10,000 and a prison sentence of up to six months.

Clearly the consequences of non-compliance can be severe for you as an individual and for your business.

A bar or nightclub without any music is not likely to be successful for long and it is important to remember that while there is a lot going on at the moment regarding the deregulation of music, the requirement to hold the correct PPL/PRS licence has not been deregulated and these licences will still be required.

Related topics Licensing law

Related news

Show more