Licence to play music on business premises
Cathrine Ripley explores a recent case in which the High Court ruled that a restaurant owner infringed copyright by allowing DJs to play music on his premises without a licence.
The High Court recently found that a restaurant owner who permitted DJs to play music at private parties in his restaurant was infringing the copyright of the owner of the rights in the music (Phonographic Performance Ltd v Abimbola Balgun t/a Mama Africa  EWHC 1327 (Ch), 16 May 2018).
Summary judgment had been granted in the claimant’s favour and the restaurant owner, Mr Balgun, applied for the judgment to be set aside. He argued that while he had allowed DJs to play music in his restaurant, he had not authorised them to play the specific songs that infringed the claimant’s copyright. The judge decided that it was the fact that Mr Balgun had authorised music to be played which was significant, rather than whether or not he had authorised specific songs to be played.
The judge distinguished this case from an earlier decision involving the sale of recording equipment in which the court found that the defendant had no control over how the equipment was used following its sale. In Mr Balgun’s case he had full control over the playing of music in his restaurant. The judge concluded that the DJs had not exceeded the authority given to them by Mr Balgun and therefore his application to have the judgment set aside was dismissed.
This case is a reminder that, if you play recorded music in public or on your business premises (which can include playing a CD, radio or a music channel), or allow someone else to do so, you need to check that you have the necessary licences from the relevant collecting societies in order to avoid liability for copyright infringement.