Music on Hold - UK Law

Music on hold - The Legal Requirements

3CX VoIP PBX has the capability of providing music on hold while calls are put through to extensions we would like point out the legal requirements that will need to be checked by you.

Two organisations to be aware of

Generally speaking there are two licences required for a call centre and business require to play music on hold. This
article refers to the licences required in the UK. It is likely that the same situation applies in other countries, but it will be wise to check.

Firstly there is the Public Performance Licence (PPL).
This covers the royalties which are paid to the performers for the music (for example to the artist or to the orchestra who made the recording).

The second licence that you require is the Performing Rights Society Licence (PRS).
This covers the royalties which are paid to the composer of the music and the lyrics (for example the song writer).

Why do I need a Music Licence?

By law under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, if you use copyright music in public (i.e. outside of the home) you must first obtain permission from every writer or composer whose music you intend to play.

This means you would have to contact thousands of music creators to obtain their agreement to play their songs in your business or organisation which is impractical. To make things easy, PRS for Music was set up by songwriters, composers and music publishers to manage these rights on their behalf. So our Music Licence grants you the legal permission to play millions of songs, saving you the time and money needed to gain permission from the music creators directly.

This will allow you to play music on your premises live or by any recorded means -for example, radio, CD, TV, jukebox, or via the internet or as music on-hold.

If you are broadcassting to the public (i.e. anyoneon outside your residential premisses) then you will also need a license from PPL

PPL and PRS for Music are two separate independent companies and in most instances a licence is required from both organisations for you to legally play recorded music in public. While both organisations licence the use of music and collect royalties for the music industry, each represents different rights holders and have separate licences, terms and conditions.

PPL collects and distributes money for the use of recorded music on behalf of record companies and performers. PRS for Music collects and distributes money for the use of the musical composition and lyrics on behalf of authors, songwriters, composers and publisher

What happens if I don’t obtain a Music Licence?

As it is a legal requirement to gain permission from the music creator to play their music outside of the home, if you continue to play copyright music without a licence you may have to pay costs or damages if PRS for Music has to take legal action against you.

Current Tariffs

For information on the current PRS for Music tariff please follow this link. There is a wealth of information on the site concerning the types of venues and locations that require to have a licence in place in order to play copyrighted music.

For information on the current PPL. There is a wealth of information on the site concerning the types of venues and locations that require to have a licence in place in order to play copyrighted music.

Is a licence always required?
However there are a couple of specific instances where a licence may not be required.

Royalty Free Music
There has been an explosion of royalty free music in the past few years. This is music where the performers choose to not join the PPL scheme and instead sell their music at a higher price. Most royalty free music suppliers, for example Q- Music ( or AK Music ( choose to stay as a part of the PRS scheme – for their contemporary music.

According to Paul Hardcastle of Q-Music, “Call centres tend to go more for contemporary easy listening music. It can’t be too in your face. It’ll just be something that will pass the time waiting to be talked to”. Q-Music recommend contemporary easy listening for music on hold (for example their “A Place in the Sun” at a cost of $49.

With most royalty free music you would still require a PRS licence.

Classical Music on Hold
Some classical music is does not require a licence as it is out of copyright.

Copyright on written music – for example the score – expires 70 years after the composer has died. If the written copyright has expired then you do not require a PRS licence.

So as long as a composer has died before 1935 then you will not require a PRS licence. To help you find if you require a PRS licence simply look up the composer on our table.

Composer Died PRS licence required?
Sibelius 1957 Yes
Vaughan Williams 1958 Yes
Shostakovich 1975 Yes
Benjamin Britten 1976 Yes

You can now use music on hold by both Elgar (Enigma Variations or the Cello Concerto) and Holst (Planets Suite) without the need for a PRS licence. However, since the sound recording was made in the past 50 years you will probably need a PPL licence.