Let the music play

words: Meggie Sheldon
Music copyright

Music can strike the right note at a funeral, but should you be paying for using a song, melody or tune? Meggie Sheldon investigates the copyright situation…

Music copyright law essentials

A ‘musical work’, is granted copyright protection under UK Intellectual Property legislation (the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) 1988. UK law affords the copyright owner exclusive rights over the protected work for their lifetime and 70 years after their death. If the copyright in the musical work has lapsed, a license is not necessary.

A particularly poignant tune may give comfort to families at a funeral, but is it also a case of copyright infringement? To be sure it’s necessary to obtain a license from the owner of the protected work.

But… how?

Few of us have a direct line to big names in the music industry. Luckily, it has been recognised that it is an administrative burden, not to mention highly impractical, for a copyright owner to have to grant individual licenses themselves for all of those who seek them. Instead, a licensing body assists. Called PRS PPL, it offers users a streamlined route to doing the right thing.

Is music played at funerals exempt?

PRS PPL has a discretionary policy which considers weddings, christenings and funerals ‘private functions’, so no licence is needed. However, if music is played at a service which is being recorded, a music licence is necessary. The onus falls on those who are recording the ceremony to obtain the licence.

A word of warning: the discretionary policy is, of course, subject to review, so it’s important to keep up to date with any policy changes in this area.

What about public funerals?

Any funerals open to the public are no longer ‘private functions’, so music played or performed there requires a licence. It is usually for a proprietor of a premises to obtain this, so check the venue has an appropriate licence. For a funeral in an open public space, PRS PPL offers specific open space licences.

Again, it is likely that this would be obtained by the proprietor of the premises and it is worth checking before playing any music. Failing this, it is possible to obtain a music licence for “mobile businesses” which may apply to funeral directors.


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Meggie Sheldon

Meggie Sheldon is a trainee solicitor at Parker Bullen, a member of the UK200 Group. The information in this article does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general information purposes only.

If you would like further information on this topic, or you have any copyright or intellectual property related queries, contact your own professional advisor or the specialist team at Parker Bullen for personalised, expert advice.

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