Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

Copyright laws and how they apply to pubs

It is an everyday routine to turn the TV or radio on at home, particularly when your favourite sports team are about to play. However, doing the same thing at a pub or your local social club could spell trouble for the owners. With strict copyright laws in place, publicans are required to have a number of licenses and provisions in place for live sport, music, TV programmes and films.

Copyright and the protection of work

The Premier League recently announced that 22 pubs had been given fines of up to more than £200,000 after they had illegally broadcasted Premier League football matches. Further investigations into pubs and subsequent legal action are set for the near future, as part of what is described as the Premier League’s biggest ever programme for copyright protection.

However, it isn’t just live sports where copyright and illegal broadcasting can land publicans in trouble with the authorities. Television production companies now also have the power to take action if their programmes are shown illegally, following a law change in the summer. The showing of films and playing of music both also require specialist licenses, otherwise landlords/pub owners will be operating illegally.

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the creators of artistic, musical and creational works, as well as standard broadcasts, films and recordings, are given particular rights. This law is specifically designed to prevent people from publicly displaying the creator’s work, and allows the creator to licence out their work in various ways.

Pub owners: what to consider and how to protect yourselves

There are a number of areas which pub owners need to consider, and they must ensure that they stick within the laws and regulations that are set out within each area:

Playing music

For many pubs throughout the UK, music is an essential part of the visitor’s experience. The broadcasting of music requires publicans to pay royalties to the original creators. There are two main licences:

  • Performing Right Society (PRS) – Collects royalties on behalf of songwriters, publishers and composers.
  • Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL) – Collects royalties on behalf of performers and record companies.

If you run a public house, and wish to play recorded music in public, eg a radio, CD or music channel on your premises, you should check with the relevant trade bodies before doing so.

Showing films

UK pubs with television viewing of no more than 500sqm are entitled to use a Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC) umbrella licence which covers in-pub showings.  However, if the pub wanted to sell tickets for the event, or if it was to be externally advertised, they would need to secure a different type of permission: a single title licence (allows a showing of the film on a specific date).

A specific licence from the local authority would also be required in order to regulate showing films classified by age.

Free-to-air television

Beside a TV licence, pub owners also need separate licences for the public and domestic areas of their pub.

TV Licensing, the administrative body, said: “Pubs without a valid licence are breaking the law and publicans run the risk of a court prosecution and fine of up to £1000 per offence, plus costs.”

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) previously published guidance, saying: “Pubs showing free-to-air broadcasts may need to check with broadcasters that they are permitted to show the films contained within a broadcast, in the same way they need to ascertain whether they have permission to show or play any other underlying works”.

The MPLC has started to contact pubs to offer an annual umbrella licence which covers the rights to approximately two thirds of the shows shown in an evening, that don’t have subscription costs. The MPLC accounts for a number of copyright holders, including TV producers and film studios, and its membership list has significantly grown following the changes to the law.

Pay-to-view television

When showing restricted access channels, including Sky Sports and BT Sports, a pub must obtain a commercial subscription to the channels, as set out by the owner of the rights.

The IPO states: “Pubs and other commercial premises have always required a commercial subscription to show exclusive subscription broadcasts. In such cases, the commercial subscription acts as a licence.”

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) is responsible for targeting those pubs that don’t have everything present and correct, protecting their members such as Sky, Virgin Media and MPLC.  They stress that competitors within the area are always keen to inform them of anybody not following the correct procedures.

Author : Stuart Jessop

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.

Published on 1st November 2017
(Last updated 7th May 2021)