Music royalties in the UK: a quick guide

Posted on 25 Apr 2014 |

Rob Gilbert and Hannah Boothby, Soundreef

As an artist, record label or publisher, how do you get paid royalties when your music is used in the UK? There are two separate organisations that license different sets of rights in the use of music: PRS for Music and PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited). We’ve put this blog post together to explain how their royalty collection systems work from your perspective. Updated July 2014.

Who are PRS and PPL, and what do they do?

PRS for Music is actually made up of two separate collecting societies (also called ‘performing rights organisations’), PRS and MCPS, which operate together. PRS collects and distributes royalties for musical works that have been performed or played, while MCPS collects and distributes royalties for musical works that have been reproduced or copied.

PRS for Music is a society of songwriters, composers and music publishers who license the use of their members’ musical compositions and lyrics. This licensing can be for a variety of reasons - for example, being broadcast on radio, played in public or copied onto CDs.

PPL do a very similar job, but they specifically license the use of recorded music to be played in public, broadcast on radio or TV, or used on the internet, on behalf of record companies and performers.

So they look after my copyright?

No, registering your music with a collecting society does not give you copyright protection - they simply collect royalties when the work is performed. There is currently no official form of copyright registration available in the UK.

In the UK, all original music is protected by copyright as soon as it is recorded or written down in some format, but the onus is on the creator to prove their ownership. Many artists deal with this by storing a copy with a solicitor, or by sending a copy of the work to themselves via special delivery and keeping is sealed (though this method is not reliable – we will be posting an article about this soon).

Under copyright law, you have the right to perform the music in public and communicate the music to the public (your performing rights), and you transfer these to a collecting society when you sign up with them.

Who should join?

PRS has different memberships for writers and publishers – here, we’ll concentrate on writer membership, which applies to artists. You should consider joining as a writer member if you have created an original song or piece of music (including writing lyrics and musical notation) and your music is being broadcast or performed, either live or in public.

Anyone who owns (or is the exclusive licensee of) any right to recorded music that is broadcast or played in public in the UK can join PPL as a recording rights holder member. Anyone who has performed on recorded music can join PPL as a performer member, though not all performer contributions are eligible for royalties. As a general guide, all audible contributions (such as guitar or vocals) will be eligible roles.

When should you join?

You should consider joining a collecting society when one of your songs has been broadcast, performed live or played in public. Similarly, you should consider MCPS membership when one of your songs has been released by a record company (unless you own the record company yourself).

You do notneed to join a collecting society if you:

  • Perform in a band but do not have any writing credits.
  • Arrange existing pieces of music that are still in copyright.
  • DJ, but do not produce, your own tracks.

PRS for Music charge a £50 joining fee, and PPL currently has no fee. PRS pays royalties on a quarterly basis and PPL pays annually, though PPL makes international payments more regularly. These royalties are calculated precisely for radio play, TV broadcasts and live performances, but exact data is not available for how often each track is played in public as background music (such as in a shop ), so survey information and radio play are used to calculate how these licence fees are distributed. For more on these calculation methods, see our previous blog post.

Can anyone else collect my royalties?

In the US, artists have long been able to choose which collecting society they use – they can work with, for example, BMI or ASCAP. In Europe, the situation was different: artists, record labels and publishers could only use one local collecting society to deal with their royalties, and businesses who wanted to buy a licence to play background music to their customers and staff could only buy it from that same collecting society. This means that, in the UK, artists could only register with PRS.

This situation began to change in 2008, when the European Commission ruled that these monopolies were anticompetitive. This decision should make it easier for authors to choose a collecting society and encourage collecting societies to modernise their methods. In practical terms, change has been slow, but the decision has paved the way for companies such as Soundreef, which allow artists, record labels and publishers to make the most of their rights.

Can I be registered with both Soundreef and PRS/PPL?

Soundreef is a UK collecting society which licences businesses to play its members’ music. We are the most progressive and efficient music rights management company in Europe; as well as granting licenses to use music, we gather and distribute royalties on behalf of authors and publishers, providing an alternative to traditional copyright collection societies that is fairer and more transparent for right owners (see our previous blog post for more about us).

Soundreef collects royalties for artists, record labels and publishers when their tracks are used as background music for stores, but does not collect royalties when their music is used for any other reason. That means that, instead of transferring from your existing collecting society to us, you’ll need to limit your mandate with your existing collecting society instead. If your existing collecting society is AGEDI, ASCAP, BMI, SCF, SESAC, SGAE or SIAE, we’ll do this automatically – but unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated with PRS.

We've had informal confirmation that it is possible for PRS members to limit their mandate, though we don't yet know how they should go about this. We suggest any PRS members wanting to register their music with Soundreef contact PRS directly. 

****Important update: July 2014****

Great news!

We’re delighted to announce that PRS members can now register their music with Soundreef In-Store and earn royalties when their music is used as background music.

PRS members can sign up in three simple steps:

1. Fill in the registration form (or sign up with social media) and register your songs.

2. Email info@soundreef.com and tell us you’re a PRS member. We’ll send you a draft letter that you can use to send a letter to PRS, telling them you’ve joined Soundreef. Send it to them as soon as you can.

3. Enjoy your royalties!

The Soundreef Team