Our ‘legal doctor’ Robert Botkai asks if retailers really need licences for the playing of music or television programmes in store

FT - Robert Botkai partner Winckworth Sherwood

Robert Botkai, partner, Winckworth Sherwood

Many retailers play music or moving pictures on televisions in stores to boost sales, enhance a friendly atmosphere and create a better work environment for their staff.

Studies show that in-store music can even increase sales if it’s used correctly. It is often overlooked, however, that playing music in-store or showing films or TV shows can expose your business to a risk of copyright law infringement.

Why do you need a licence?

Copyright law is complex. If a business infringes the copyright belonging to a third party, it may find itself on the wrong side of court action.

To illustrate its complexity, different types of copyright may exist in a single song.

The lyricists, composers, producers, record label and the musicians may each have bespoke rights to reproduce and perform the music, lyrics and sound recordings.

And even more copyright claims arise in films and television shows.

Reproducing or playing these works to the public without the appropriate licence may expose your business to a risk of copyright litigation.

What licences do you need?

The Music Licence

Any location that plays recorded music to the public, even as background music, will be required to have the appropriate licence in place.

Previously, you would have needed to get a licence from both the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and the Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL).

Each body collects tariffs for different copyright holders. The PRS collects fees on behalf of songwriters and composers, while the PPL collects royalties for producers and performers.

In 2018, the PRS and PPL launched a joint licence, so you only need to get one licence to cover both tariffs. This joint licence is known as The Music Licence.

Motion Picture Licensing Company Umbrella Licence

The showing of films, television shows, downloads, streaming or broadcast television in a public space is considered a ‘public performance’. This will include the showing of television programmes (live or recorded) for customers or even just for your employees.

Unless authorised by a licence, you could be breaching the copyright of the production company, script writers and any person or body who holds the copyright. There are thousands of such rights-holders.

Two private organisations represent various copyright rightsholders.

The most far-reaching licence to authorise ‘public performances’ is the Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC) Umbrella Licence, which enables screenings of all works from over 1,000 rightsholders. Another organisation, Filmbank, represents different studios and rightsholders. Depending on the type and origin of the works you are showing on screens, you should consider from which of the organisations you need to obtain a licence.

How do I get the relevant licence?

The Music Licence

Annual tariffs are calculated on the basis of the ‘audible area’, meaning the area in which the music can be heard.

The cheapest tariffs apply to spaces that are less than 100m2 and play only ‘traditional’ radio (terrestrial and local stations).

The usual price-point for this size area to play streamed music is around £400 (excluding VAT) per annum.

In order to specifically establish how much your licence will cost, you will need to get a quote from the PPL PRS website as tariffs are bespoke to each licence holder depending on their needs and size.

Alternatively, some streaming platforms, such as Apple Music for Business, work the same as a normal music-streaming service but include the requisite licence when you sign up.

MPLC Umbrella Licence

Similarly, the MPLC Umbrella Licence is worked out on the basis of square metres of all areas where the screens are installed.

The usual price for ‘public performances’ in shops is around £140 for an area of up to 250m2 where it is being played in the background. To establish your business’s fee payable, contacting MPLC via their website will provide you with an annual fee quote.

Consequences of failure to obtain the correct licences

By failing to have the appropriate licences in place, rightsholders could pursue you for damages as a result of infringing their copyright.

As primary copyright infringement does not require knowledge that you were doing anything wrong, you are likely be found to be infringing if challenged where you do not have a licence.

Confused? Please feel free to contact the licensing team at Winckworth Sherwood who will be more than happy to assist you.