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Playing music in the workplace

Until February 2018, if you played music or listened to the radio in your workplace, you almost certainly needed two separate licenses.

It was a confusing system, and one that caught out a number of business owners.

Take the example of hairdresser Neil Hull from Preston. He liked to play the radio while his customers were having a trim, so he bought a licence from the Performing Rights Society (PRS for Music).

All was fine until he was visited by an inspector from a different organisation, Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL), who then took Neil to court for playing tracks by the Kaiser Chiefs and Black Eyed Peas in public. He was landed with a legal bill for £1,569.

What Neil didn’t realise was that he needed two licences to avoid breaching two distinct types of copyright:

  • Copyright of the musical and lyrical composition
  • Copyright in the sound recording


PRS for Music distributed the former license funds to composers and music publishers, while PPL distributed the latter to record companies and performers.

PRS and PPL have now joined forces

Sensibly, PRS for Music and PPL have now created a joint organisation called PPL PRS. This now handles all aspects of music licensing and issues a single licence called TheMusicLicence. PPL then distributes their share of the fees on behalf of record companies and performers, while PRS for Music distributes fees on behalf of songwriters, composers and publishers.

When do I need a licence?

While there are exemptions, if you play music at work and people other than you listen to it, then you need a licence. It doesn’t matter whether you are playing music in the presence of a single employee in your home office, or whether you are playing it in the background of your shop – if other people are listening, you usually need to be covered.

What are the exemptions?

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find full information about exemptions on the new PPL PRS website. PRS for Music used to list a range of possible exemptions, such as using music for medical music therapy sessions, background music in hospitals and hospices, music played to test electrical equipment and music used in wedding ceremonies. Employees who listen to music only via personal headphones were also exempt. If you want to find out whether you are exempt, then the best advice is to get directly in touch with PPL PRS.

How much do licences cost?

Licence cost depends on the size of your business, the industry you work in and the reasons why you use music. It also depends on whether you are playing music via radio, TV, online, CDs or vinyl.

You can find full details of tariffs here.

Key takeaways

If you have a business and you play music, you will almost certainly need a licence. If you don’t, you run the risk of expensive legal action – both PRS and PPL encourage the public to report businesses playing music illegally.

While it may be tempting to take the risk of not buying a licence, it’s a bad idea that can backfire spectacularly. A licence may not be cheap, but it’ll make less of a dent in your accounts than a court appearance and a fine!

Business support and advice

Here at THP Chartered Accountants we like to work with our clients to understand their business and their customers, providing a range of accountancy services  for help with everyday assistance like  bookkeeping and accountancyauditing and business management or company restructures and acquisitions.  We offer everything you need to take your start-up or SME forward.

For more information just get in contact or come and visit us at one of our THP offices located in ChelmsfordCheamWansteadSaffron Walden and London City.

Avatar for Jon Pryse-Jones
About Jon Pryse-Jones

Since joining THP in 1978, Jon Pryse-Jones has been hands on with every area of the business. Now specialising in strategy, business planning, and marketing, Jon remains at the forefront of the growth and development at THP.

An ideas man, Jon enjoys getting the most out of all situations, “I act as a catalyst for creative people and encourage them to think outside the box,” he says, “and I’m not afraid of being confrontational. It often leads to a better result for THP and its clients.”

Jon’s appreciation for THP extends to his fellow team members and the board.  “They really know how to run a successful business,” he says.  He’s keen on IT and systems development as critical to success, and he continues to guide THP to be at the cutting edge and effective.

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