Performance Rights Society Calls Small Businesses & Threatens Them Over Music Heard In The Background

from the going-just-a-bit-too-far dept

We’ve covered how various performing rights societies have grown more and more desperate over the past few years — including going after auto repair shops because their mechanics, out in the garage, played radios loud enough for customers in the waiting room to hear. That, to these societies, represents a “public performance.” Reader John points us to an even more insane example. Apparently, PRS, in the UK has even taken to phoning up small businesses, and if they hear music playing in the background, they demand payment:

Robson, 75, who was targeted last year, said: “There is usually only me here and I like to have nice relaxing music. The woman said she could hear music in the background. I thought, ‘My God, you?ve got good ears.’ She asked how many of us were here listening. I said me and sometimes the dog. Eventually, after I made a fuss, they apologised and said I would not be bothered again.”

John Collins, 57, who runs a software company from a room at his home in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, received letters saying he needed a licence for the classical CDs he played while working. “If my wife Susan brings me a cup of tea and hears the music then I might be liable,” he said.

Apparently even playing music to animals is considered a potential public performance to PRS:

Even dogs and cats do not always escape targeting. Follybridge cattery near Peterborough and Stokenchurch dog rescue centre in Buckinghamshire, which play Terry Wogan?s Radio 2 show to their “guests”, were both told they would need a licence in case any workers heard the music.

Yes, they’re really reaching for that point where you’ll need a general license just to listen to music yourself.

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Comments on “Performance Rights Society Calls Small Businesses & Threatens Them Over Music Heard In The Background”

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

It’s hard to believe that at one time copyrights only protected the actual publishing of copyrighted works. E.g., the publishing of a book or the publishing of sheet music. Copyright did not cover performances at all. You could play music in public for money all you wanted, and if you could play by ear, you would not even need to buy a published copy of the material.

I think making performance an infringement back in the 1800s started the downfall of copyrights we’re still feeling to this very day.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And with radio they’re double dipping. They’re getting that first license and then demand a second license? That’s crap.

And I suppose if my neighbor could hear it, he’d have to pay a third license. And if someone calling him heard the music on the phone, that guy would have to pay a fourth license.

Only in IP does someone expect to be paid multiple times for the exact same $hit.

Anonymous Coward says:


Since it’s also an issue with animal, who can’t perceive the music, then it must apply to the actual music and not it’s perception

What does this mean? It means that even if it can’t be perceived but you come in contact with it and you’re at work were other people come in contact with it, you must pay for it. Even though I can’t perceive the radio signals, everyone should may for everyone around them. At work with 10 people around you, then each of those 10 people should have to pay for a 10 person license.

ITRedneck (profile) says:

Public Radio already licensed

I am sure this has already been brought to light, but…If i own a business and I either subscribe to a paid music subsription service or play publicly accessible radio programs for my customers/employees, how can I be liable for anything. The Radio Station and the Music subscription service have already paid any licensing costs associated with public broadcast of the music in question. In the case of Public radio, this licensing is paid for by advertisers. In the subscription service’s case, this is what I pay a monthly or annual fee to access.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is easy to make a point using extreme examples. The more typical scenario I have dealt with involves workplaces where music is “piped in” throughout the workplace for the benefit of a large number or employees…several hundred, in fact. Of course, the President was suprised to receive contacts from BMI and ASCAP, with his response to the contacts being “What…they want me to pay for playing a da** radio?” Of course, when he found out that each license was less than $100/yr. he relegated the issue to the “below the noise pile” and paid without hesitation.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

I would never pay them

I cant find one of the “collectors” who went to court over this yet, (someone find one) So I would ignore them.

Simple justification for it, the radio station is making a public preformance over a signal band I cant hear, im only taking that signal and moving it to a band I can hear. If you want to sue someone making a public preformance, then sue the radio station.

Even better, its analog, not encripted, and payed for by ads.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

I would never pay them

I cant find one of the “collectors” who went to court over this yet, (someone find one) So I would ignore them.

Simple justification for it, the radio station is making a public preformance over a signal band I cant hear, im only taking that signal and moving it to a band I can hear. If you want to sue someone making a public preformance, then sue the radio station.

Even better, its analog, not encripted, and payed for by ads.

Brian Engel says:

Re: What if?

Dear Porkster,

You have actually hit one particular nail on the head, probably without knowing it.

Bizarrely, the technical answer to your question is, yes, PRS would be entitled to try and licence your workplace, but if you made up your own songs, they couldn’t (unless you joined PRS as a member)

On the other hand, elctricty is a commodity that we all pay for once (out of our tax money which is used by the govt to set up power stations and genrating plants) yet our employers are still asked to pay for it again when we use it at work. Nobody seesm to object to that, or water rates, so why object to paying for commercial music; that’s just a commodity, like electricity or water.

Create your own, if you want genuinely free musicEveryone should be able to create their OWN music. I’d like to teach the world to sing, in PERFECT harmony.

Anon (profile) says:

Few Things

If the ass-hat driver paid for a licence for public performance, would he be exempt from being fined for being a public nuisance? “I bought the rights to perform this, if you don’t let me perform it then you owe me money”

Also, there could be a possible business model to be adapted from a general licence for private people to listen to their own music, but the only way it would work is if for a certain fee each year I was able to have any and all music I wanted for free. People, in general don’t have a problem with paying for something, they just have a problem paying for something TWICE.

Cynthia Powell (profile) says:


have they all lost their minds? Why, I believe they have. How many artists are filling their bank accounts with money from this? I’ve seen some stupid things in this country that I love but this takes the cake. Has to be those idiots in California. Greedy pigs. You got paid, you stole from the artists and this is just a coverup so you don’t get sued for what you stole from them. Hell, I’ll turn the radio off. I don’t like most of the music anyway. Radio will not like that. Radio will be unhappy. Radio will sue someone. I’d love to get a phone call like that. We have enough problems in this country that need fixing, this isn’t one of them. We look like a bunch of idiots. Sorry, THEY are a bunch of idiots.

Laila Hall (user link) says:

PRS for music, The Saga continues -.

We run a small hostel for backpackers. We have an old, analogue TV in the Common Room only.
We recently received a letter from PRS for music, informing us that they would contact us to discuss our Music Licence needs.
Today we got the call from PRS. When we politely informed the caller that our small hostel was already paying for a TV Licence and did not have a radio or cd/recordplayer on the premises, he insisted we still required a music licence.
Our TV, being analogue, gets 4 channels only, so has not even a radio channel!
We did not get anywhere with the caller and then politely said “goodbye” and hung up.

Where do we stand in all this bureaucratic nitpicking?
Any recent resolutions?

Kind Regards,


Colin Green says:

PRS hounding

I and my wife own a small picture framing shop with basement workshop. We have had at least six calls from the PRS and at last a letter stating that we should pay for the use of a radio in the workshop. I explained that we had no employees and that there was no music in the shop at all and in fact we seldom if ever listen to music, preferring background chat. They stated that my wife constituted an employee and I should pay £66 plus Vat as a licence.
Bl..dy ridiculous, times are hard enough as it is without that. I will just have to remove the radio.
Is there no answer to these people?

Ashley Watson says:

PRS cold callers

PRS just contacted me for the 4th time to say that I will need a licence to listen to Radio 4 at work, saying that the snippets of music used in programming constitute “music”. I replied that as we have no employees and that we arent open to the public ,we would not need a licence. I was put on hold,then told that a licence WOULD be necessary if we were to listen to BBC radio 4.
Are these people for real ???
Cant they go and get real jobs?
Why arent they chasing people who subject the public to their
mobile phone/MP3 “music” on public transport?

Your Mother says:

An Idea

Put tune recognizing chips in to everyone’s ears. For every second the chip recognizes a song a fee is paid. It can automatically deduct from your bank account and be broken up into tiny percentages allowing everyone who has ever had anything to do with that 1 second of recognizable music. Including the instrument manufacturers, the inventors of the instruments, the guy who brought coffee to the singer just before belted out the final track, and don’t forget the creator of the rocking chair that the singer’s school choir instructor heard as a boy while staying at his grandfather’s house every summer. If it weren’t for that he’d have never become a choir instructor. If this winds up happening, I better get a cut: MY IDEA

If you think that’s a good idea, you ought to see my coin operated cell phone. It only takes pennies; just 25 every minute. No contracts!

Mary says:

I just had a woman from PRS call our office claiming we needed a license to listen to the radio in our office. I told her we didnt listen to the radio but we did have a TV and a valid TV license. She then proceeded to inform me that we need a license to listen to the Theme Music in the Ad’s….I wanted to ask her if she was taking the Perverbial but instead I informed her that the TV was part of our CCTV security system so she apologised and hung off. I’m still in shock that there are business’s out there that can cold call you and make threats. Don’t we have enough on our plates at the moment trying to make a living and survive this recession without having Shister’s like the PRS cashing in.

Nick (user link) says:

Re: PRS wanting license payment for TV adverts

We have a rollings news channel on during the day at our office (usually Sky News or BBC News) – the PRS called us up yesterday saying we needed to pay for a licence for the music played in the adverts on Sky News – I told them this was ridiculous and we wouldn’t be paying for it – i am totally confused as to whether this is actually legal from their perspective – can anyone give me some understanding if this is legal and if not, is there anywhere i can take this further as i am infuriated by this

Les (profile) says:


I have been receiving telephone calls for nearly 3 months from this company. Interestingly enough when you call back you often end up listening to music whilst you are ‘waiting in line for the next available person’ Do they have a licence?
I am involved with a small members club (football) and we have Sky TV for all the football, rugby, darts which we cannot get on terrestial tv. The reason we need to pay, because of the music played during adverts, the cost, a minimum of £124.00 per year,per set, unless our tv is bigger than 26 inches then it is a wopping £168.00 We pay more for Sky because we are a business, pay business rates, pay public liability insurance, pay for a tv licence, and now they want to charge me for the adverts I have no control over. With regards to them entering your premises, only Police, Fire Brigade, Licencing Officers and Custome & Excise can do this without permission. So dont let them in if they do arrive, and ask them to leave if they already have. If they do ring ask them to send you the legal documents prooving that you need the licence, they tell you to look it up on the website, but there is no actual link to any government legislation.

Brian Engel says:

PRS pestering small business

I know a lot more about the PRS than the average bloke in the street because A) I am a member of the PRS as a publisher and B) I was a fairly senior manager at PRS back in the late 80s.

On principle, the PRS are right to approach those who use music in the course of their business……..BUT, wait a minute, read on.

The PRS management is controlled and directed by its board. Its board, who are the paymasters and policy makers, comprises all the major commercial interests of the entertainment industry; Universal, EMI, Warners, Sony etc etc and some representatives of well known composers’ estates and some well known living (rich) composers and songwriters.

They have demanded that PRS increase its licensing activities. Money is tight nowadays and what with the Internet downloading and pircay denuding the industry of income, the current recession and one thing and another, the majors need more money coming in.

The fault lies in inadequate supervision and control of the actual staff who make these calls and who send out the computerised letters. I have criticised PRS (who are my sole source of broadcast revenue, as a professional in the music industry) for two things regarding this matter;

1. The lack of common sense shown in the examples you have illustrrated on your website. Soemone should look at “Old Mother Hubbard’s Dogs’ Home”, or whatever, and be capable of making a reasoned judgement that its not going to be a company with a huge turnover and that it is pointless pursuing such a lost cause for a licence fee.

2. Failure to pursue, with the same vigour, the REAL, big time, villains and copyright infringers who openly use copyright music in their businesses every day and who simply refuse to buy the licence. I am talking about huge satellite broadcasting companies and radio stations who run rings round the PRS with lawyer speak and technical queries, muddying the waters with all kinds of delaying tactics, to such an extent that a major international Television, cable and radio company, operating on a well known broadcast medium for years and years in this country, has not paid a single penny to the PRS for the use of its members (and my) copyright music.

These are the people on whom they should be concentrating their time and effort, not Sid’s Shoe Repairs because customers can hear his iPod earphones!

The bad public relations (as evidenced by the very existence of your site) is more costly than the lost income from these small businesses.

Gary says:


I was contacted by the cold called by the PRS. This sort of sh*T really gets my back up. we are a small firm have a radio on occasionaly. I have never heard anything so ridiculous as having to pay in the workplace to listenten to the friggin radio. Surely if they want to license the music this should be paid for by the radio stations not the public or business! its insane. Also apparently radios in the van are exempt how the f**ck do you figure that??/ This is a rip off in times of recession and it makes me even more determined to shove one up these aresholes in whatever way i can. This is not Starlinist Russia for gods sake, but wer’re not far of it..

jim (user link) says:


why are they going after small businesses? this sounds absolutely insane? are they trying to kill off commercial radio stations. This will ultimately result in less revenue for their members not more. Who was the moron that came up with this policy? Probably the loser / semi retard in your class at school that had no life. I always wondered what happened to those freaks. looks like they work for the PRS

Hal MacLean says:

PRS are still at it

I too was rung up recently by PRS who almost demanded I pay them a fee and when pressed they said : “You are a business, and even if you listen to music from the internet you have to pay us a license”. I said we don’t have a radio on at work, and they questioned it, saying it is very unlikely that no music is heard ever. Apparently, listening to music embedded in software, played through the internet, or even just too loud when wearing earphones is enough to justify the license.

I am appalled that the club who had a larger than 26″TV had to pay more for exactly the same audio content coming out – how utterly ridiculous is that?

As a performer myself (at one time in the 80’s) I have every sympathy with the position of collecting royalties. However, this is going way too far. Brian Engel said that he thinks PRS are not targetting the right people, and I agree.

For years we have had the ability within our society to listen freely to the radio, to gather around and enjoy the broadcast, to collect together with a few mates, a few beers and listen to some tracks. Going to the local park to kick a ball around, with some music in the background now constitutes broadcast, and we have to pay.

What if you play in a covers band, Brian, and play the track identically to the original? Who owns the music then? Do covers bands have to pay to play the music on their set list too? What about the fact the music stations pay the fee to broadcast in the first place (OK, there is at least one who doesn’t, for whatever reason) and in amongst that fee they declare the intended audience to be a certain number of people. I happen to be one of those people for whom the license is paid, and if I am in a room with others, it’s reasonable to assume they are also intended listeners. Why should we all have to pay again to hear what the radio station is broadcasting? Owning a radio doesn’t require a license and never should.

In times of war and civil unrest the radio is an essential mode of communication. Government broadcasts about safety, news, important updates are all sent over the air. by licensing radios we are limiting the range of the audience, and marginalising potential listeners. How foolish.

Many have already pointed out that the radio stations, the performers and artists depend on people listening to their work in order to make a living. I do not choose to listen to much of the drivel that plays over the airwaves, but I am still obliged to pay a license for it, apparently. If I stop listening – if we ALL stop listening – what then for the artist? Limited to live performances only, they wouldn’t make a great deal of money, would they?

So why are the artists not paid enough by the record labels and publishers? Surely, once paid for a service the product becomes available to all and the channels through which it is promoted are the basis for collecting royalties. The end user sitting in an office with three or four others doesn’t constitute a very public performance, and I seriously doubt that PRS are returning the right amount to all of the people they should be. In fact, when I signed up as an artist on their site (and yes, I do have the right to do this as I have material in publication) it tells me very clearly that simply by registering I cannot expect to receive any money. What a fair system they’ve got…

So here’s what we all should do – get access to Grageband (or anything that allows us to make music electronically), create a unique three minute piece and put it on your phone system as hold music. Make sure everyone who calls you gets put on hold for around ten seconds each, and then register as an artist on PRS database. I mean everyone – all 60 million of us in the UK (and preferably everyone else not in the UK, too). And then group together and make music in groups, do the same thing. And keep on doing it as often as you can. Broadcast it on the internet, through YouTube, as embedded music on web sites – make CDs and tapes of it and distribute it to anyone you can.Make it tuneful or not – random noise or catchy numbers, sing on it or don’t – it doesn’t matter. The important thing is you are a registered artist and that your music is listened to.

Then sue the a$$ off PRS for failing to uphold their agreement to pay royalties to performers, when quite clearly their systems couldn’t cope.

I really detest what PRS are doing, the manner in which they are doing it and the people they are targeting – look at the lady singing in her own shop, for example. Why in God’s name do we teach children to sing in schools if they are only going to get hit with fines when they do so? I have yet to see any positive thing in this whole debacle. It is counter productive, will ruin the audio industries and create a generation of people scared to perform.

Someone somewhere in a position of power ought to get a grip on this and put it out of our misery, and quick.

elena faramus says:

PPL License

Our MP Geoffrey Cox QC wrote to PPL querying their methods and their basis for trying to charge us a license fee. I have copied the most important part of their reply here:
“PPL contacted Mr and Mrs Faramus’ business ((No.89 Vegetarian B&B)) by telephone on 29 October 2013 and spoke to Mr Faramus. Upon reviewing the call it is clear that unfortunately we failed to apply a PPL licensing policy that would have exempted Mr and Mrs Faramus’ bed and breakfast business from the requirement to pay the licence fee.
The tariff that was applied to the business was PPL’s tariff for the supply of recorded music to hotel rooms. This tariff was introduced as a result of clarification provided by the judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the case of Phonographic Performance (Ireland) Limited v Ireland and the Attorney General. In this case the ECJ confirmed that where a hotel relays broadcast signals that contain sound recordings from a central aerial to television sets in bedrooms or provides copies of sound recordings and the means of playing them this constitutes communication to the public and is licensable by the owner of the copyright in the sound recordings so communicated. Following the judgment of the ECJ, PPL agreed a new tariff in consultation with the British Hospitality Association and this was introduced on 1 January 2013. While the judgment of the ECJ does not create any exception to the right in respect of small businesses, PPL decided at the time of introducing the tariff to not require a fee where a hotel has less than 25 rooms and does not have any areas that are open to non-residents (such as a bar or restaurant) Although this policy is explained in materials provided to all staff is seems that is was missed on the case. We take this failure to meet the standards that we set for ourselves very seriously and additional training has been planned to ensure that this issue is addressed. Our licensing operations in this sector have been placed on hold until training has been delivered.”

The letter is signed by Peter Leathem, Chief Executive Officer

All the best and happy new year to anyone reading this.
Elena and Paul Faramus, No.89 Vegetarian B&B, Bideford

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