Police chiefs in England and Wales paid £660,952 for licences so staff could listen to music in offices in the past year, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
The highest expenditure came from the Metropolitan Police which paid £246,297.
Four forces paid nothing, while 17 spent more than £10,000.
The Performing Right Society (PRS) collects the fees and pays royalties to composers and their publishers.
The statistics were obtained by Robert Foulds, the clerk of Bramley Parish Council in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
"I discovered we were meant to pay for a licence when any music was played in the parish hall, such as people having a disco," he said.
"I then thought if we were going to get stung like that, what about the services paid by the public purse?"
Mr Foulds said he could not believe it was acceptable for money from the public purse "to be flushed away like confetti".
The head of the finance department of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Chief Constable Nick Gargan, said he would rather budgets were spent on "fighting crime and keeping people safe".
"Our policy at Avon and Somerset Police [the force he heads] is simple: we don't play music," he said.
Exceptions to police being liable to pay the licence fee include workers listening to a device through headphones or where music is needed in the investigation of a crime.
Music used on telephone lines when people are put on hold also has to be paid for.
The cost of licences depends on a variety of factors, including the number of listeners and whether music is played in a work or a recreational area.
The Met said the licence covered the organisation for music played anywhere on its premises, "including that played on TV and radios in rest areas and employees having radios on for background".
'Not a lot of money'
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "This bill should not be borne by taxpayers, therefore spending on the licences should be axed.
"When police forces across the country have to balance their budgets, this is an easy way for them to save money and focus funds on catching criminals and preventing crime."
After the Met, the three forces which paid the most were Thames Valley Police (£36,655), Devon and Cornwall Constabulary (£26,790), and Kent Police (£25,012).
But the chairman of the West Mercia Police Federation, Ken Mackaill, defended the expenditure. The West Mercia force spent almost £7,000.
"We provide a 24-hour service," he said.
"It is not unreasonable when an officer is having a sandwich and a cup of coffee at three o'clock in the morning to provide equipment for rest and relaxation.
"In the general scheme of things it is not a lot of money and the benefit on staff morale is significant."
West Yorkshire Police did not respond to the FOI, the only force not to do so.