Frequently asked questions

Please note that the following information on copyright is intended as a guide only. The information is not a comprehensive statement of the law and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

This section explains the legal requirement to obtain a PPL licence, the legal basis on which PPL is authorised to grant licences, and the serious legal consequences of failing to obtain the appropriate PPL licence.

UK copyright law (primarily, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) provides protection for recorded music (along with other types of creative works) by giving the copyright owner certain exclusive rights of use.  Anyone who uses recorded music for those protected uses will be infringing copyright unless they are licensed (i.e. authorised) to do so by the copyright owner.

For recorded music (referred to under copyright law as “sound recordings”), the original copyright owner is the person who undertakes the arrangements necessary for the recording to be made – usually this is the record company responsible for organising and paying for the recording.

The copyright owner’s exclusive rights to use recorded music in the UK include, amongst others:

  • the right to play them in public;
  • the right to communicate them to the public (including broadcasting them);
  • the right to copy them.

Please note that you may still require a licence even if you do not think you are using recorded music in any of these ways, as the legal scope of these exclusive rights can be broader than you might think.

There is no section of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 that creates PPL or gives it the power to grant licences.  Instead, PPL was set up by the UK’s copyright owners themselves and it is through them that PPL acquires the legal entitlement to grant your licence.  On joining, recorded music copyright owners legally transfer the relevant rights to us, or appoint us as their agent to exercise them.

The result is that PPL effectively becomes the copyright owner, and is therefore able to grant collective licences authorising you to play in public, or broadcast, all of its members’ recorded music or music videos in the UK. Those collective licences can also cover the copying of recorded music and music videos for certain purposes (e.g. where businesses provide jukeboxes, hard disk systems and other music/video services to other businesses) but for other acts of copying you may require the direct permission of the relevant record company.

This means that you can legitimately use a vast range of recorded music or music videos without needing separate licences from each record company, etc; instead, you simply need the appropriate PPL licence.

PPL, a not-for-profit company, is the London-based UK music industry service organisation which licences recorded music and music videos for public performance, broadcast and new media use.

Please note that PPL is not the same as PRS for Music.

Whenever a sound recording is played in public or broadcast in the UK, a PRS for Music licence is likely to be required in addition to a licence from PPL.

This is because the law protects separately the underlying musical and lyrical compositions (e.g. the “song”) embodied in sound recordings and music videos.  The rights in those musical and lyrical works are owned separately (by composers/publishers) and licensed collectively on behalf of those separate copyright owners by PRS for Music.

There are two separate copyrights in a sound recording and a licence is required for each one:

  • The copyright in the lyrics and composition are owned by the author and music publisher and this is administered by PRS for Music.
  • The copyright in the performance and sound recording are owned by the performers and record company and administered by PPL.

As PRS for Music and PPL operate for different rights owners they have always remained as separate companies.

Please note that playing recorded music “in public” (sometimes referred to as “public performance”) has a wider legal meaning than you might think.

For example, it is not confined to playing recorded music in places to which the general public have access, or in an outdoor public space. A public performance occurs whenever sound recordings are played outside the domestic or family circle. Whenever, a sound recording is played in a school environment, even if only one person can hear it, it becomes a public performance and a fee is payable to PPL.


It effectively covers any playing of recorded music in a non-domestic setting –  such as pubs, clubs, restaurants, shops, schools, municipal buildings and so on and therefore may require a licence (but a private wedding party at a hotel may not).  It also covers playing recorded music on your premises via radio/TV.

Contrary to popular belief the fee for the use of copyrighted material is NOT negated by the fact that the audience does not pay for listening to the music.

When you buy a CD it only gives you the right to use it for private use such as playing at home or in your car. If you wish to use it outside of these environments such as background music in a school, you will require a licence from the rights owner, which in this case is PPL.

Your TV licence only covers domestic use of your television equipment.  Every television channel (including SKY Sports) uses copyright sound recordings in their broadcast ( such as theme tunes and background music during programmes) so any use of your television within your business premises constitutes a licensable public performance of copyright sound recordings.

Radio stations (including news and talk radio) use copyright sound recordings (such as theme tunes and background music during programmes) so any radio broadcasts within your business premises constitute a licensable public performance of copyright sound recordings.

PPL was established in 1934 by the UK recording industry to administer the copyright in public performance of their sound recordings. We operate under the terms of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (1911 Copyright Act in the Channel Islands). The Act provides that a fee is payable to the copyright owner in a sound recording whenever it is broadcast or played in public.

All licence fees collected (less administration costs) are distributed to the recording companies, individual artists and musicians that have contributed to the recordings.

The cost of a licence depends on your school’s pupil numbers. The licence tariff is reviewed each year by PPL and the current tariff can be found on our PPL tariff page. To enable CEFM to advise you further please contact the helpline team on 01494 836233.

If you hire a background music system, the fee you previously paid to your supplier also included the PPL public performance fee. However, this is no longer the case and you will need to secure a licence direct from PPL.

If you hire a Jukebox, the public performance fee is still included in the fees you pay to your supplier.

If you are playing music videos you will also legally require a licence from Video Performance Limited (VPL).

The VPL licence fees are assessed according to the number and size of the screens upon which music videos are played.

The following types of music cannot be used for public performance:

  • Illegal downloads (from P2P networks etc.)
  • Unlicensed internet radio Services
  • Licensed on-demand / interactive music services (Napster, Yahoo Music etc.). These are services that let users play specific tracks in an order of their choosing or to create customised ‘radio’ stations playing a range of music / artists they have selected. It is our understanding that such services are only licensed by the record companies for personal individual use and not for public performance use.

The following sources of music can be used:

  • Legally purchased downloads on condition that the usage complies with the Digital Rights Management (DRM) rules accompanying the download. For example, if the download is restricted to being held and played back from a specific PC or MP3 player, the public performance has to be sourced from that PC or MP3 player. If the download rules allow the track to be burnt to a CD that CD can then be used for public performance in the same way as any conventional commercial CD.
  • Licensed streamed non-interactive Internet radio services (this would include the Internet broadcasts of licensed commercial radio stations such as Capital, XFM etc. as well as Internet only radio services that have proper licences in place).

A PPL licence entitles a named person or organisation to publicly perform sound recordings at a designated premises only. When a new person takes over a premises or moves premises the usage of sound recordings may be different and so a new licence needs to be issued to ensure that we accurately licence any sound recordings used.

Hundreds of thousands of businesses and broadcasters are licensed by PPL and are therefore able to make lawful use of recorded music and music videos.  However, please be aware that failure or refusal to obtain the appropriate PPL licence can have serious consequences, and may ultimately result in a court order to stop you playing sound recordings or music videos altogether until all outstanding fees are paid in full – as well as making you pay interest and costs.