You need permission from the people who wrote the music (composers, lyricists and music publishers) and the people who performed and recorded it (performers and record labels). This means you might need to contact more than one organisation to get permission to use music depending on how you want to use it.
If your organisation copies or shares, plays or performs a lot of copyright protected material, you may find it useful to get a blanket licence from one of the Collective licensing organisations included on this page. Blanket licences makes copyright licensing simpler by giving permission for people within your organisation to use a wide range of resources in specific ways.
The following information and referrals may not satisfy all of your questions, and you may also need to contact other organisations for permission or advice.
Who to contact
Playing music or music videos in your business or organisation
You will almost certainly need to have a licence to play music in your business or organisation – this includes having the TV or radio on for your staff, customers or visitors and at events. You will probably need a licence from both PRS for Music (representing composers, writers and music publishers) and PPL (representing record companies and performers).
If you are from a voluntary organisation that plays music in a community building, PRS for Music and PPL provide a joint licence. Lots of useful information is available on their websites.
Recording or performing music written by somebody else
Musicians who want to cover somebody else’s work should contact PRS for Music, which protects the interests of composers, writers and music publishers.
If you are sampling music, you should contact the copyright holders directly. If the work hasn’t yet been recorded, you will still need to get the permission of the composer and lyricist (if there is one).
Using someone else’s music in something you’re creating
If you're using someone else's music in something you're creating (for example as a soundtrack to a video or to a programme you are making), you’ll need to get permission from the copyright holder. A good place to start is the last known music publisher for the work.
PRS for Music and PPL offer a Limited Manufacture Licence, which gives you 'blanket' permission to use any music in your own CDs, DVDs or videos (and other formats). It can be used for personal use (such as wedding videos) or for performances such as school plays and amateur dramatics. You should contact PRS for Music to find out more about the Limited Manufacture Licence.
If you wish to include recorded music in a TV or radio programme for broadcast, this may be covered by the broadcaster's PPL licence. PPL can also license businesses to copy recorded music in order to supply music services to other businesses (such as digital jukeboxes). Visit the PPL website for more information.
Share music, online or offline
It’s against the law to share music publicly, even if you have paid for a copy of a piece of music. Sharing includes activity such as copying and distributing music – for example to email groups, via a file sharing website or by converting MP3 files to CDs and sharing them.
You may have to contact the record company that recorded the work. You can find contact details for record companies on their websites.
Where to look for music you can use legally
Numerous commercial organisations provide audio collections (music and sound clips) that can be licensed for a variety of uses. Paying for a licence doesn't mean the audio clip can be used without limitation so you must always read and understand the terms of a licence to find out what you can and can't do with it.
Getty Images has a music section on their website where you can purchase licences to download audio clips for a variety of different uses.
If you can’t find out who has the copyright for a piece of music
You should always try to find out who owns copyright for the music or music video you want to use, and get their permission to use their work.
If you can't find out who the copyright holder is, you could try contacting PRS for Music or PPL in the first instance for more information about the musical works and recordings they license. Otherwise, you can try the record company that has recorded the music or the music publisher.
If after carrying out a “diligent search” you still can’t find out who the copyright holder is, the work you want to use may qualify as an orphan work, that is a work protected by copyright but whose copyright owner is unknown or cannot be found. You can find guidance on how orphan works can be used in the UK on CopyrightUser.org.
Find out More
- The music universe – An illustrated explanation of the relationship between creators and rights holders (pdf)
- What copyright exists in music?
- Copyright and music
- Copyright and printed music
- What is the difference between PRS for music and PPL?
- Joint licensing for community buildings
- Public performance and broadcasting of recorded music (PPL)