PRS & Copyright: Know the rules and don’t get caught out

PRS & Copyright: Know the rules and don’t get caught out

You’ve written a killer comedy sketch and the only thing missing is a piece of music to enhance the storyline. Before you download Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, beware. There is a price to pay. The public performance of a piece of music, played live or recorded, is subject to a licence fee. Here are the facts:

Understand the set up

Any music released commercially is in ‘copyright’ which quite literally means that the composer is protected from anybody copying it. Remember that composers and musicians earn their living by way of royalties every time their music is played or used in exactly the same way that you would expect to be rewarded for writing a joke or a script. For example, they get paid a royalty every time their track is played on the radio so exactly the same rule applies to usage in theatrical performance.

Copyright and the collection of royalties are managed by the Performing Rights Society (PRS) – visit for more information. Comedy venues, promoters and festival organisers are also subjected to paying a PRS licence for music usage and you will often receive a questionnaire asking you to state if your show or act includes copyrighted music.

They may even ask you to pay towards the cost of their licence. Don’t think you can get away with it as the PRS inspects venues for irregular use of music and there is a price to pay if you get caught out. You will be fined for misuse.

Apply for the right license

In order to use a piece of music you need to apply for either a ‘sync ‘ licence, which enables you to use the composition, or a ‘master’ licence to use the actual recording. Both of these options can be very costly, especially the master licence.

Search for ‘cleared music’

A safe and less expensive option if you want to use music with your live performance or as a video soundtrack, is to conduct an online search for ‘cleared music’, which has literally been cleared for any kind of usage by the originator. There are a number of suppliers like where you can listen to, download and pay a very reasonable licence fee for the rights to use a piece of music.

Create your own music

Conversely if you create a piece of music yourself, you can register and copyright the composition with PRS to prevent anybody else from stealing your material or, if you are writing for somebody else, to receive a royalty for your efforts.