The Internet and Licensing of Music in the UK:
My experiences of the MCPS and PRS

Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS)
Performing Right Society (PRS)

SterlingTimes homepage

Unhelpful links:
Quotation from PRS for 100 off30 second music clips

Good links:

I have been running a small hobby site in the United Kingdom that was largely dependent upon using music clips in a historic context, i.e. as part of a virtual museum. The site is totally non-commercial.

"SterlingTimes" has generally received an average of about 1000 page hits a day [January 2001]. The music clips were not easily downloadable since they were presented as "streaming" files, and the music was recorded at a low bit rate thereby making the music of little interest for serious listening.

I have recently come under sustained attack from the PRS and MCPS in the UK and have decided to remove all music files from my site to avoid copyright infringement of musical works.

It appears from initial quotations that annual licences for a relatively small number of 30 second music clips could be priced at in excess of 881. Clearly, this is unreasonable and not affordable for a hobby site. In the meantime, I have been approached by mainstream music retailers who wish to exploit "pirate" websites, and are prepared to pay cash for referrals. So we seem to have a music industry in the UK that is a little perverse in its inconsistent approach. In these circumstances, I have withdrawn all music files from the server upon which is housed. I am continuing to point to music files on third party sites. Despite a decline in site hits since the silencing of my site, the overall support remains strong.

Letter from Stephen Lewis to various interested parties - 20 June 2000

At last, I have some interesting answers to my questions addressed to the MCPS.

It appear that it is necessary to obtain permissions and/or licences from three sources to use music on the Internet:

(1) The MCPS for musical composition

(2) Permission from record companies directly for use of sound recordings (I was unsure from the licence terms whether clips did not need such permissions but I will seek further advice).

(3) The PRS for performance.

For a hobby site, this is a virtual impossibility given the expense and the overall complexity. I calculate the annual licence price alone to be 750 (ex VAT, if VAT is charged). It is unclear how record companies would respond.

The use of music and lyrics is affected by this ruling. Any radio recording incorporating licensable music would also be subject to these arrangements.

So nearly all British hobby sites incorporating TV, radio and music material are likely to be illegal and are liable to closure.

I reproduce below my most recent questions addressed to the MCPS with today’s answers.

I have had to have a re-think about and I have removed all of the music from my server. I am still linking to music elsewhere on the web given that I am not copying or broadcasting, however, I rather feel that that also will be attacked.

This looks like the end of a good thing.

I really can’t imagine why I have been so aggressively attacked.

Stephen Lewis


>1. Do I need a UK licence because the server that I use is in the UK, or because I am in the UK?

Because you are based/have economic residence in the UK.

> 2. If I use a USA-based or other foreign-based server, can you still grant me a licence?

The location of your server is irrelevant. It is where your economic residence is.

> 3. Would I be free from allegations of infringement in the USA if I were correctly licensed through you?

The MCPS issues licences on behalf of its composer members for the use of their compositions. You would need to clear the use of the relevant sound recordings with the record companies directly. You would also need a PRS licence for the public performance of their members works.

> 4. I stated in the application form that I nominally wanted 1000 clips, but is there a cheaper licence for fewer than 1000 clips. 250 seems to be quite expensive for a hobby site. Is there any form of cheaper licence?

Licences are issued quarterly, so we would invoice you for 62.50 per quarter. You would not have to pay the 250 in one go.

>5. I have not been able to get a reply from the PRS. Could you give me an indication as to how much the PRS would charge?

Unfortunately not. You need to contact Lisa Feltham @ PRS on 020 7306 4261 to find the details of their licence.

>6. Are other such hobby site in the UK correctly licensed?

I get this type of query a lot and I can't stress this strongly enough. If you use the music without a licence, you are in infringement of copyright and run the risk of legal action being taken against you and your site can be shut down. We have issued licences for other such hobby sites although I can not disclose which ones or how many.

>My intention is to run a hobby site on a completely non-commercial basis. I wish to use largely historic clips of very old music to enhance the music-related material in my site. The music that I intend to use is of little commercial interest today, however, visitors may wish to buy your members' music from specialist record suppliers.


Stephen Lewis reply to MCPS 27 June 2000

Dear David

It is with great sadness that I have deleted all of the music files from my two related websites and

I am double checking webspace that I have used elsewhere in the past. I will recheck over the next couple of days that no fragments remain.

These were all vintage clips of little commercial value.

My combined quotation for annual licences from the MCPS/PRS for around about 150 clips 30 second clips was 881 including VAT. Clearly, this is not affordable for hobbyist, and the administrative burden acts as a further barrier.

Whereas I know that you are legally very correct in what you are doing, the recent sustained wave of attacks on non-commercial hobby site is very destructive and is serving to remove a very important historic knowledge base from the Internet. Sensible and affordable licensing arrangement would have served the Internet community and the music industry far better.

Notwithstanding my strong views on this matter, you have my assurance that I will carry no music files on my site.

Kind regards - Stephen Lewis

-----Original Message-----

From: Protheroe, David []

Sent: 27 June 2000 18:50


Subject: FW: MCPS online licensing

> Hello,

> I am doing a chase up e-mail to all the people I have sent online

> licensing literature to over the past few months. Can you let me know

> by return e-mail the following information.

> 1. Are you using music on your own or related party website.

> 2. the URL/address of any such website.

> 3. How the music is being used.

> If you have decided to not use music on your site, could you please

> confirm this to me by return e-mail.

> Thank you for your time.

> David Protheroe

From: Feltham, Lisa []
Sent: 10 May 2000 17:04
To: 'Stephen'
Subject: PRS Licence

> Dear Sir,
> PRS Licence
> On your website, there are audio files.
> Should your website have available, in whatever format and however
> accessed, copyright music a PRS licence will be required.
> PRS represents authors, composers and publishers of musical works and
> licences certain copyrights in those works on our members' behalf, which
> will include the use of these works on your website.
> It is important to regularise the situation by applying for a PRS licence.
> I therefore have attached a copy of the PRS Online Licence Application
> Form, which I would ask you to complete and return to me. This will
> enable me to calculate the PRS royalty.
> Should you have any questions regarding our licence, please do not
> hesitate to contact my PA Lisa (Tel: 020 7306 4261) or myself (Tel: 020
> 7306 4260, fax: 020 7306 4499, e-mail
> If your website is using copyright music you may also require a licence
> from The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS - contact Dave
> Protheroe 020 7306 4530) and/or Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL -
> contact Mary Carr 020 7534 1000).
> I look forward to hearing from you.
> <<internetform>>
> Yours faithfully,
> Mike
> Mike Palmer
> Head of Broadcasting

From: Smith, Jon []
Sent: 15 February 2000 15:11
To: ''

> The Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society Ltd (MCPS) is an organisation
> that represents thousands of songwriters, composers and music publishers.
> Acting on behalf of our members, MCPS negotiates agreements with those who
> wish to record music and ensures that the copyright owners are paid for
> the use of their music. The society collects and then distributes the
> mechanical royalties which are generated by the recording of music onto
> many different formats including CD, cassette, vinyl, video, multimedia,
> audio-visual and broadcast programmes.
> The use of copyright music on the Internet is no different to the use of
> music
> in any other medium or format. All the rights must be licensed
> appropriately
> including clips of any length and music on sites of any type from home
> pages
> to large corporate sites.
> What kinds of music can I licence?
> MCPS licenses two types of music, Production Music and Commercial Music.
> Production Music - often referred to as Library Music is music
> specifically written for inclusion in audio and audio-visual productions,
> such as advertisements, broadcast programmes, film and video productions.
> It is licensed according to simple procedures with no pre-clearance
> formalities and at cost effective rates published in the MCPS rate card.
> Licences issued by MCPS cover the right to reproduce the musical work,
> sound recording and artist performance. If you would like further
> information on production music and a copy of the rate card, please
> contact Media Licensing on 0171 306 4500 or e-mail:
> Commercial music can loosely be defined as music which is made available
> for sale to members of the general public for their listening pleasure,
> usually on retail CDs, casette's, etc. Licences issued by MCPS only cover
> the right to reproduce the musical work.
> More information and application forms is attached:
> <<Intro.doc>> <<Online Download letter.doc>> <<Online Downloads
> Application form.doc>>
> If you have any queries, please contact David Protheroe on 020 7306 4500
> or