Music royalties in the UK: a quick guide

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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 [email protected] 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