Copyright collection societies – what you need to know

9 minute read
13 June 2023

Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works along with databases, sound recordings, films and broadcasts are all protected by copyright. Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 ("the Act"), you need permission from the copyright owner in order to reproduce, perform, show or play copyrighted works in public, subject to certain exceptions detailed under the Act.

Collecting societies act on behalf of copyright owners by providing licences to those who wish to use copyrighted material in exchange for a royalty fee. In the fourth article in our copyright series, we explore what collecting societies do, how they ensure copyright is adhered to and what to do if you are contacted by one.

What is a collecting society?

Collecting societies are organisations that carry out collective management of copyright and related rights. They are also known as Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) or performance rights organisations (PROs). Copyright owners join CMOs in order to instruct the CMO to administer their copyright on their behalf. There are CMOs for music, print and digital material, performers' rights, artistic works and images, films and other societies which are focused on particular uses.

CMOs in the UK include:

  1. Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) – for literary works;
  2. Artists' Collecting Society (ACS) – for artistic works;
  3. Christian Copyright Licensing International, United Kingdom – for works associated with Christian worship;
  4. Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) – for literary and artistic works;
  5. Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) – for artistic works;
  6. Directors UK (D-UK) – for films;
  7. Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) – for motion pictures;
  8. Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) – for musical works and sound recording (physical products, streams, downloads and use in TV, film or radio);
  9. NLA Media Access - for literary works (digital and print newspaper, magazine and news website content);
  10. PRS for Music - for musical works and sound recording (broadcast, streams, downloads and performances);
  11. Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) - for musical works and sound recording (broadcast and public plays); and
  12. Publishers' Licensing Services (PLS) – literary works.

Please note this list is incomplete. You can find a full list on  the UK Government website.

What does a collecting society or CMO do?

Copyright owners are entitled to license their copyright to others or to prevent others from using it if they seek to do so without a licence. CMOs license, gather and distribute royalties on behalf of their members - the copyright owners. Copyright owners typically register with the CMO for a one-off fee and then submit their works to the database. Once the works have been registered, the CMO will approach parties who have used the works, for instance if a song has been played on the radio, and charge a royalty fee to the licensee (e.g. the radio station) for the licence. The CMO will charge the copyright owner an administration fee for dealing with the licensing arrangement which will be deducted from the licence fee. The balance of the monies are then paid to the copyright owner as royalties.

In addition, CMOs offer blanket licences to businesses and organisations which means that they have the necessary permission to play or perform music or show films or TV on their premises. For instance, TheMusicLicence from PRS and PPL is a music licensing organisation which gives venues permission to play most commercially available music and MPLC's Umbrella licence gives venues the rights to show films and TV shows.

How do collecting societies identify potential licensees?

They often use software and databases in order to identify potential licensees or they will focus on particular categories of potential users and contact them to check what use they are making of copyright works.

What do I do if I am contacted by a CMO?

First, you need to identify whether you are indeed using the copyright works in question. For example, do you broadcast any films or television programmes or play music in any areas in your premises? This includes private office spaces and members' only spaces not open to the public. If the answer is yes, you need to determine the extent of the use being made.

If you are using copyrighted works then you will need to pay the royalty fee to the collecting society to obtain a licence. You are infringing copyright if you play live or recorded music, or broadcast TV or films in public without a licence and you could be sued by the CMO seeking an injunction, damages and legal costs.

What payments will I be asked to make and do I need to make them?

Depending on your usage, collecting societies will ask you to pay either an annual licence or a sum per performance/event.

For example…

  • Where background music is played collecting agencies have a set fee depending on the type and size of venue. In the UK, the licence fee to play background music in a pub/restaurant/hotel currently ranges between £175 - £437 (excluding VAT) for 400 – 1000 square metres of audible area. For a hairdressing salon, licence fees can start at £95 (excluding VAT) per year.
  • For events where recorded music is played, collecting societies may charge a royalty based on the number of people in the audience, or a small percentage (e.g. 3%) of the admission fee. In the case of live music, venues are asked to report on the set list so that the various copyright owners can be paid for the performances.
  • For TV and film, collecting societies offer an annual background/ambiance screening licence which, for pubs/bars currently ranges between £118 - £236 (excluding VAT) for 500 – 1000 square metres of area where the screens are installed. For a commercial screening of a film, the fee is 35% of the admission charge, with a minimum rate of £75 (excluding VAT).

In each instance, the collecting societies are looking to collect the fees ahead of time and there may be surcharges for late payments or for not obtaining a licence where it is required.

The licence fees are legally enforceable as if you do not pay you will be in breach of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and could be subject to legal action. However, it is sometimes possible to negotiate the level of fees so it is worth seeking legal advice on the particular request received.

If you are looking to avoid such fees, an alternative would be to play royalty-free music/video in your premises. This does not mean that the material will be free but that you only need to pay a one-time licensing fee to play/show it publicly.

Are CMOs regulated in any way?

Yes. CMOs in the UK are governed by the Collective Management of Copyright (EU Directive) Regulations 2016. The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) is responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the Collective Management of Copyright (EU Directive) Regulations 2016 in the UK.

Our team has experience dealing with many IP issues and challenges and has particular experience in copyright law. To find out how we can advise you on your intellectual property matters, contact a member of our IP team.

Get back to basics with our previous articles in our copyright article series:

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