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Is Your Instore Music Legal?

Posted by on in General Retail
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Music is an integral component of any successful retail store. Shoppers might not notice store signs, fixturing or store layout, but they are very likely to notice the sound. The right music at the right time can create a lasting impression, attracting customers and adding value through increased sales, productivity and brand presence. The wrong music can drive customers away...

But is the music in your shop being used legally? With increased accessibility to a wider range of music and technology, it’s understandable that some retailers are confused about what represents appropriate and legal use of music in business environments, especially with regard to playing recorded music within your shop.

As outlined by, you almost always need permission to play live or recorded music in your business or as telephone ‘music on hold’. This is to protect the rights of music creators, music publishers, performers and record producers and pay them for the use of their product. Simply buying a CD, for example, doesn’t include the right to play it in a commercial environment, such as a shop.

The following commonly asked questionsand answers may help you better understand how you can legally play recorded music within your shop [btw this includes your backroom or office - if the public can hear it]:

Why do you need a licence?
Music in all forms is the intellectual property of its creators and is protected in Australia by the Copyright Act.

The Copyright Act specifies the rights granted to copyright owners, which includes the right to allow their musical works and sound recordings to be heard in public, such as within a retail store.
To avoid infringing copyright, any business that wants to:

play protected sound recordings (e.g. CDs, downloads, tapes, DVD) in a public place;
play live music or use a DJ;
use the radio or television in a public place;
exhibit music videos; or
use telephone ‘music on hold’;
should obtain a licence to do so from all of the copyright owners for eachmusical work, protected recording or video they play.

What licences do you need to play music in your store?
It’s important to understand that there are at least two copyrights in each sound recording or music video.
First, there’s the copyright in the composition (that’s the notes and lyrics) which is called the ‘musical work’, which is usually owned by the songwriter and publisher; and
Secondly, there’s the copyright in each recorded version of the composition, which is called the ‘sound recording’ and is usually produced by an artist and their record company.
So to play a CD, download, tape, music video or telephone ‘music on hold’ in your business, you will typically need two licences - one from the copyright owners in the ‘musical work’ and one from the copyright owners in the ‘sound recording’. If you choose to play music videos in your business, the copyright in the music video itself will also need to be licensed.

If you only play the radio, television or live music in your business, then you will only require a licence for the ‘musical work’ copyright. However, if the radio or television is part of your telephone ‘music on hold’ then you will require a licence for both the ‘musical work’ and the ‘sound recording’.

Where can you obtain these licences?
Identifying all of the copyright owners and obtaining the necessary licences for each recording can be both difficult and time consuming. This is where APRA and PPCA can help. Both organisations can issue licences on behalf of a wide range of copyright owners.
APRA – the Australasian Performing Rights Association
grants licences for the broadcast and public performance rights in the ‘musical work’ and distributes licence fee income to songwriters and their publishers.
PPCA – the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia
grants non-exclusive licences for the ‘sound recording’ copyright and distributes licence fee income to record labels and directly toregistered Australian recording artists.
For this reason, it is typically necessary for you to obtain licences from both PPCA and APRA if you play sound recordings or music videos in your business. Alternatively, users can contact individual copyright owners and make arrangements for each recording.

What can happen to you or your business if you infringe copyright?
PPCA operates an enforcement program targeting businesses playing copyright protected music without a licence to do so. If a business protected plays sound recordings (CDs, downloads) or music videos without the right licences they risk infringing copyright, which is breaking the law. If a business is using copyright protected sound recordings without a licence, PPCA can and does take legal action on behalf of its licensors for the infringement of copyright. PPCA has enjoyed a 100% success rate in legal proceedings against businesses using protected sound recordings without a licence to doso. The Federal Magistrates Court can order businesses to pay backfees, interest, legal costs and damages if they are found to be illegally playing recorded music.

Hope this helps...


Shopping should be a pleasure for everyone involved - customers, staff and business owners - never a chore.  I spend my time working with retail business owners - helping them love their businesses back to life!  This blog is my thoughts, ideas, tips and  musings on what I find...