Musicians Celebrate: UK Small Venues Can Now Play Live Music License-Free [Updated]

from the look-at-that! dept

Update: As explained in the comments, this is actually a different license than the copyright collection society license — which still needs to be paid. This is merely a form of a business operating license in order to have live music. Yes, apparently you needed special separate license to have live music. So this really isn’t an advancement on the copyright side of things, unfortunately, and those kinds of licenses may still serve to scare off small venues from allowing performers to perform. It’s a shame. Original post remains below.

In the last few years, we’ve been (pleasantly) surprised at a few attempts in the UK to make copyright law slightly more reasonable. The Hargreaves Report, for example, was surprisingly reasonable, and while there’s resistance, it still appears as if the government is interested in supporting many of its recommendations. We also just reported on an attempt to move some copyright claims to a small claims court, greatly limiting the damages possible.

And now, it appears that the UK has removed license requirements for small venues playing music. Under this new law, venues with a capacity under 200 won’t have to pay license fees for having live music performers, and any venue can avoid license fees if it’s playing “unamplified” live music (which probably limits how large the venue can be by default anyway). This is a pretty big deal.

As we’ve been writing about for years, various collection societies around the globe have been ramping up efforts to collect money from pretty much any place that plays music. This has resulted in some absolutely crazy stories (especially in the UK) of the local collection society, PRS, going after a shop assistant for singing out loud while stocking shelves, demanding payments from a woman who played music for her horses, and cracking down on a children’s charity for singing Christmas carols without a license. Those stories may be extreme examples, but it gives you a sense of how aggressive some of these organizations are. The real end result, unfortunately, is that plenty of venues that used to host open mic nights or allow local musicians to perform (a great way for musicians to learn how to perform) have stopped such things, as it’s not worth paying a huge license fee just to let some musicians perform.

The new law only applies to live music — so situations that involve recorded music will still have to pay up — but, at the very least, this should free up coffee shops and restaurants and the like to let some musicians perform, without having to pay crazy license fees. And, it’s worth noting, that musicians are (quite rightly) celebrating this change. Even though the various collection societies like to argue that demanding license fees from coffee shops for open mic night is a good thing, most musicians recognize that’s not true at all. They need more venues to play in, and that’s especially true of up and coming artists. The predictions in the UK are that this will allow an impressive 13,000 venues to start having live music performances, where they wouldn’t have done so before.

While you could argue that this should go even further, it’s still a rare case in which copyright law is effectively limited, rather than continuously expanded — and it’s quite encouraging that musicians realize this is actually to their benefit, rather than detriment.

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Comments on “Musicians Celebrate: UK Small Venues Can Now Play Live Music License-Free [Updated]”

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Duke (profile) says:

Wrong kind of licence

While it would be pretty great if it was, this isn’t anything to do with copyright or collecting societies. This is about state licensing.

Under the Licensing Act that this amends, it is illegal to do certain things (sell alcohol, provide certain kinds of entertainment, late-night refreshment etc.) without a licence from the government (usually the local council), and this can vary from hundreds to tens of thousands of pounds a year, depending on what is being licensed. This fee is usually paid by the premises, rather than the artists.

While it is great for musicians (that it will be much cheaper for clubs, bars, pubs etc. to let them play), it still doesn’t fix the issue of either musicians or venues having to pay the extortionate collecting society rates.

As an aside, the Licensing Act is pretty silly in places, but then a lot of stuff in the UK is heavily regulated.

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Wrong kind of licence

Its nice to see this a bit more relaxed. After the Raves of the 80s and 90s Middle class England threw a fit, and Castlemorton in 1992 was the tipping point.
In order to clamp down on Illegal Raves, the CJA, a highly controversial bill, was introduced and so pretty much any form of playing music in the UK is heavily regulated.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think this is good news.

This is great news for musicians who desire to sing their own songs overseas; when entertainment attorneys located in los angeles desire to pursue what is normally a 35? royalty through legal process. It will be interesting to see how rights holding companies react.

It’s good news, however, I remain surprised that Mike didn’t bring up the ability to Happy Birthday in a small venue; with party hats and sopapillas.

I think people sometimes sing or play instruments this way. I remember such a time, not long ago, when a person I know had Happy Birthday sung with a Mariachi Band, complete with accordion. We offered the band a tip; which was our way of ensuring the proper royalties were paid. We also tipped the barkeep who served our party of 10 some excellent margaritas.

That said however, and for fear of attorneys in Los Angeles and others having a good time, or some new royalty being invented by policy makers in LA area, I’m not sharing the name of the place, but the undisclosed location where this rights infringement likely occurred is somewhere in Tijuana. I’ve since forgotten the words to the song so rightsholders can find a team to sing it next year and likely provide a similar full-service experience.

Dave Nelson (profile) says:

Music, the appreciation thereof and the performance thereof, is inherent in the human psyche. It’s built into all of us. We can no more stop music from rattling around in our heads than we can stop breathing. Although some wag in the future will probably try to charge fees for it.

Also, Denise Howell and the gang, on “This Week In Law” ( did a pretty good job of covering U.S. copyright and patent law today.

It seems a little strange to me that the U.K. is LEADING efforts to reform the practical application of copyright, rather than us, but I definitely appreciate it. Now let’s see what they can do about the MAFIAA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

UK has had some really outrageous laws and this is a step in trying to improve it a bit. They are taking babysteps and the DMCA of the USA is a wet dream for the Pirate Parties in Europe compared to what exists today (It is more or less mandatory asking a copyright-holder for permission no matter the use…).

As it was stated earlier, this was a government tax getting eliminated and it did not hit the collection societies.

It is a big improvement for the low resource musicians since they will have an easier time getting a gig.

Anonymous Coward says:

and it’s quite encouraging that musicians realize this is actually to their benefit, rather than detriment.

Any sane musician would see this as a good thing.

It’s actually the gatekeepers – the publishers, labels, and studios – and not the creators themselves, who are doing most of the complaining. They don’t give a crap about the creator. Their own short-term revenues are the only things that count.

…And that makes me wonder about who the shareholders are.

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