The UK government is considering shaking up the law on copyright and changing how foreign producers and performers get paid when their music is broadcast or played in public.

On 15 January 2024 the UK Intellectual Property Office (“IPO”) published a consultation with different options for changing the law on public performance rights (“PPR”) and invited responses from the public.


UK copyright law gives producers of sound recordings such as record labels various exclusive rights, including the right to control the copying, making available online, broadcasting and public playing of their recordings.  The last of these is what we call PPR – for example, when music is played on the radio, in a gym or in a nightclub.

The musicians and vocalists on these recordings (i.e. the ‘performers’) have similar rights but when it comes to PPR they only have the right to be paid equitably, not a right to control the broadcasting or public playing of the recording.

PPR are administered in the UK by PPL, a collection society which represents performers and record companies and grants licences for the public performance of recorded music, allowing businesses to play it to the public (previously, they needed separate licences from PPL and from PRS for Music which represents songwriters, composers and music publishers but they have now joined forces as PPL PRS Ltd to offer a one-stop shop and single licence called TheMusicLicence).

The law

Pursuant to sections 154 and 155 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, in the UK a sound recording gets the benefit of copyright (including PPR) if the producer is a national or resident of a quality country or if the recording is first published in a qualifying country. 

“First published” means the first distribution of physical copies of a recording as well as any distribution within 30 days thereafter and a “qualifying country” is a country that is a party to international copyright agreements such as the Rome Convention or the WIPO Performances and Phonographs Treaty.  This box is easily ticked by commercial music that is released on CD or vinyl etc meaning foreign producers often get the benefit of UK copyright, including PPR.

The law works differently for a foreign performer.  They get PPR if they are a national of a qualifying country or if their performance is given in a qualifying country and if that country gives corresponding PPR to UK nationals.

This means that in many cases PPR revenue in the UK will only go to the record labels and not the performers.  For example, the US has more limited PPR than the UK and producers and performers are only paid for certain digital transmissions of music.  This then limits the rights that US performers, but not producers, are entitled to in the UK.

Further, because the UK widely provides PPR to foreign producers, UK users may have to pay to play music from those countries whereas users in those countries may not have to pay to play UK music. 

The consultation

The IPO is considering the following options for PPR eligibility:

  • Option 0: do nothing. Different rules would continue to apply to foreign producers and performers. 
  • Option 1: treat foreign performers in the same way as foreign producers.  This would mean an expansion of the rights of foreign performers in line with those of foreign producers.
  • Option 2: treat foreign producers in the same way as foreign performers.  This would mean a reduction in the rights of foreign producers as they would only get PPR to the extent that their countries provide PPR to UK nationals.
  • Option 3: apply Option 1 to pre-existing sound recordings and performances and apply Option 2 to new ones.  This would do what it says on the tin.

Impact on the music industry

The IPO considers that option 1 could cost US record labels a handsome £230 million between 2024  and 2033 with this money instead going into the hands of US musicians.  It says that option 2 could be damaging for the UK music industry as users could end up playing less UK music in favour of US music (and certain other foreign music) as it would be cheaper.  Finally, it says option 3 could secure savings for UK users and gains for UK labels and artists but could end up with a similar result to option 2.

The UK government believes that changes to the law are necessary to ensure consistency with the treaties on copyright and performers’ rights and therefore intends to rule out option 0.  It is also not a fan of option 2 given the potential risks to the UK music industry.  It is therefore considering options 1 and 3 and appears to be leaning towards the former as the most low-risk option.

The consultation is open until 11 March 2024.  If you want to have your say on the matter then you can submit your response to the consultation via the Citizen Space Platform.