A guide to music copyright

Dealing with copyright is an important part of the production process but can be a confusing area. Copyright Chicken discovers how music copyright works.

What is music copyright?
Music copyright is the legal protection given to the creators of music. Copyright enables composers, recording artists, musicians and other creatives to be recognised and paid for their work.

If a piece of music is protected by copyright this means that you must not broadcast it without clearing it, reporting it and paying for it.

How do the musicians get paid?
The money musicians and composers get paid when their work is used is usually referred to as royalties. There are two organisations who manage these payments. They are PRS for Music and PPL. PRS for Music look after song writers, composers and publishers. PPL look after the people who record the music – the labels and artists.

"If you don't obtain clearance for your use of copyrighted music, you could face legal action."

Anyone who plays music in public, whether they are music venues, pubs, restaurants, shops or broadcasters, have to pay for two licences - one to PRS for Music and one to PPL. These two organizations collect payments and this money is used to pay those writers or musicians whose copyrighted music has been used.

One song or piece of music can have several people who own part of the copyright. These can include composers, writers, performers, publishers and labels. For example, if you wanted to use Wannabe by The Spice Girls, there are seven composers credited, represented by three music publishers who all have the right to be paid for the use of the song.

PRS for Music and PPL are non profit organisations.

What’s it got to do with me?
The only way PRS for Music and PPL can make sure the right people get paid is if we all accurately report the music we use.

The process
- Before you choose your music, make sure you know what your budget is. Larger production companies may have bigger budgets or a blanket agreement which will allow you to use a large amount of commercial music. Productions on a smaller budget may not have the money to pay for the right to use commercial music, so options maybe limited to library music.

Get clearance – PRS for Music and PPL represent thousands of composers and musicians and can provide clearance for you to use a certain piece of music. If the musicians are not represented by PRS for Music or PPL then you will have to go to the composer and/or record label directly to obtain permission.

Blanket agreements
Some larger independent production companies and broadcasters, including the BBC, pay a yearly fee to PRS for Music which allows them to use any PRS-managed music without obtaining an individual licence every time music is used. This is called a blanket licence agreement.

If your production company or broadcaster has a blanket licence agreement with PRS for Music, then you won't have to pay for the music directly from your production budget, but you must still fill in a music cue sheet to report what you are using.

Larger production companies usually have a music clearance department who can deal with the publisher or PRS for Music for you. If you don't have a department for clearing music then you'll have to contact the music owner yourself. You should be aware that the composer or record company can turn down your request for clearance if the fee isn’t enough or the context of use doesn’t appeal to them.

Some music will fall outside the scope of the blanket licence agreement so don't assume you can use a piece of music without checking first. Every blanket is different in terms of what music it covers and how you can use the music in your programme.

Reporting your music
Reporting your music basically means paying for it. Even if you have cleared the music through PRS for Music or the artist directly you still need to report it. You will need to fill in a cue sheet that will eventually make its way to PRS and PPL. When you start on a production make sure you familiarise yourself with the music reporting process because every company will have a different system.

What happens if you don't obtain clearance?
If you don't obtain clearance for your use of copyrighted music, you could face legal action for copyright infringement and may become liable to pay damages and costs.

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