The first was against the owners of Hastings’ West Exit nightclub, in a case taken by Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL), the company that collects royalties from the performance of recorded, copyrighted music on behalf of record companies and musicians. A PPL inspector had visited West Exit in April and heard music played while the club was without a current licence. West Exit’s owners were banned from playing anymore recorded music at their venues, until they had paid legal costs of £1,680 and brought their PPL licences up to date. The club was back and hosting events within a week of the ruling.
The second, more high profile case, was taken against one of the country’s biggest music industry figures, promoter Vince Power, by PRS For Music (colloquially known as the PRS). A separate organisation to PPL, PRS collects royalties from the performance of both recorded and live music, on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers.
Founder of London’s Mean Fiddler venue, Power had overseen the growth of Reading (and later Leeds) Festival since 1989, as well as the Fleadh, Phoenix and Benicàssim festivals. PRS’ case against Power involved his Hop Farm Festival at Paddock Wood, Kent, which it claimed was lacking correct licences between 2009 and 2012. In a similar ruling to that against West Exit’s owners, Power was banned from staging live music events until he’d paid £7,987 legal costs and brought his licences up to date.
While both rulings affected professional music operators, it’s worth knowing that PPL and PRS licences are legally required in the great majority of cases whenever recorded music is played in public, whether from physical, downloaded or streamed formats, or over the radio, television etc.
In most cases domestic life is exempt (so throwing a party at home for friends or family is fine), unless, for example, you run a business from home in which music is played to other staff or visitors.
In virtually all other cases, from cafes and shops to offices and factories, PPL and PRS licences are needed if music is being played, with the PRS licence additionally covering any live performances.
PPL and PRS exist to protect the rights of their members and you don’t need to be a professional to join. Unsigned musicians, whether songwriters or performers on recordings, can also benefit financially by joining.