Following a recent amendment to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, not-for-profit organisations, including charities, local and central government, NHS Trusts, voluntary organisations and social enterprises, are now obliged to pay a licence fee for the performance of sound recordings in public (i.e. any non-domestic setting).

On 1 January 2011, the exemption that allowed such organisations to play recorded music and audio books in public without infringing copyright in the sound recording was repealed. This was done because rights holders have, in recent years, complained that they were not receiving a fair reward for the performance of their works in public. The Government has, however, agreed a package of measures aimed at protecting not-for-profit organisations from excessive costs (including ensuring that licence fees are low).

Two types of licence must now be obtained. The first is a licence from PPL, who represent the record companies who produce the sound recordings. Fees start at around £50 per year but vary depending on the size of your organisation and your intended use of the sound recordings. The good news is that PPL has decided not to charge fees to non-governmental not-for-profit organisations, community buildings run by non-statutory not-for-profit organisations, charity shops, and small charitable and community organisations, until 1 January 2012. PPL has also decided to continue to allow the use of recorded music in: patient wards, or during medical treatment taking place, at NHS hospitals (i.e. this does not include waiting areas, corridors, cafes and staff areas, for which a licence is required); religious services; and domestic use in residents’ areas of care homes and retirement homes; without the need to pay a licence fee.

The second type of licence is a licence from PRS for Music, who represent lyricists, composers and publishers. As with PPL, there are a number of situations in which PRS for Music has decided not to charge a licence fee. These include: medical music therapy (i.e. where music is an integral part of the therapy); background music in treatment areas in hospitals and clinics; and background music or formal performances of music in residential homes for the elderly or disabled, and premises within sheltered communities.

A number of other exemptions under the Act, including the exemption that allow schools and higher education institutions to play sound recordings for the purposes of instructing without infringing copyright, remain unchanged.


Very few not-for-profit organisations are aware of these changes to the Act. It’s important that your organisation therefore reviews its current and intended use of recorded music and other sound recordings and obtains the appropriate licences from PPL and PRS for Music. Without the appropriate licences your organisation may be infringing copyright which could result in a claim being brought against your organisation by copyright owners.

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