Playing music in public places

Members of Parliament sometimes receive enquiries from constituents asking why their businesses need to pay for different licences to play music in public. This guide provides information about what licensing is needed to play music in public – for instance a B&B, a shop or a pub.

Why are licences needed?

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 , permission is needed from the relevant copyright holders – the people who create music – to play, or perform, music in public.

Many businesses and organisations from all sectors in the UK play music for their customers and their employees. Most of these places – from pubs, bars and nightclubs, to hairdressers, factories, gyms and universities – require, by law, permission in the form of a licence to do so. ​

Music licensing bodies

​There are two music licensing organisations in the UK: ​

  • PRS for Music, which represents composers and music publishers and collects royalties on their behalf whenever their music is publicly performed
  • PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited), which licenses the public performance and broadcast (including online) of sound recordings on behalf of record companies and the musicians on the recording

​Both are collective management companies that issue licences and collect royalties for certain uses of copyright-protected music on behalf of their members. 

Without these organisations, businesses such as pubs and hairdressers would have to contact songwriters and music publishers directly to obtain permission to use their music. 

Previously, people had to purchase two separate licences from PPL and PRS for Music.​​ The two organisations have now set up PPL PRS Ltd to offer a single joint music licence (“TheMusicLicence”) on behalf of them both, for playing and performing music in public. ​

See PPL PRS: United for Music – What we do for further information.

Who needs a licence?

On its website, Get a licence to play live or recorded music, the Government has set out a list of places that require a license to play music in public. A licence is needed whenever music played in public, including the following places:  

  • shops
  • offices and factories
  • hairdressers and beauty salons
  • cinemas and theatres
  • hotels and guesthouses
  • restaurants and cafes
  • pubs, bars and nightclubs
  • sports grounds and other sporting facilities (such as bowling alleys)
  • gyms and other health facilities
  • bingo halls and casinos
  • social clubs and members’ clubs
  • churches and halls
  • public transport

What does ‘playing in public’ mean?

There is no statutory definition of “playing in public”, but the courts have given guidance on its meaning and ruled that it is “any playing of music outside of a domestic setting”. PPL’s Code of Conduct (PDF 196 KB) (see page 2) provides further detail on the meaning of “in public”:

(…) Please note that “playing in public” has a broad legal meaning – it is not defined in the 1988 Act but the courts have given guidance on this and determined that it is effectively any playing of sound recordings (including via television and radio) other than in a domestic setting. So playing recorded music in a workplace can be “playing in public”; it is not a requirement for the general public to have access to the place where the music is being played…

I have a TV licence already – do I also need a separate music licence?

Yes. If you play music through a TV in a public establishment, such as a fish and chip shop, you will still need a licence. A TV licence, issued by TV Licensing on behalf of the BBC, is needed for the lawful use of television equipment to receive TV signals. It does not grant permission to play in public the recorded music used as part of the broadcasts.

Further advice for the public and Members’ staff

If a constituent has any queries about the requirement for a licence, they should seek advice from PPL PRS UK – contact details are as follows:

PPL PRS Ltd 
Mercury Place 
St. George’s Street 
Leicester 
LE1 1QG

Tel: 0800 0720 808 (Monday to Friday 9am–5pm)

PPL PRS also have a UK online contact form.

Further reading

Stay up to date

Sign up to email alerts every time we publish new research on the topics you’re interested in