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The legalities of Street Performance

copyright law for disabled Buskers

If a public authority says you must have or legally need a PRS copyright licence to busk or perform, this is not true. they lied and they know it.

Most councils in the UK have blanket PRS copyright licences for live performances in public locations. This covers them for public park bandstands open air street parties buskers etc. Ticketed live concerts in parks and public spaces will have a separate PRS licence requirement.


Some music is copyrighted and you may be required by some councils to prove you have a copyright licence to busk. An equal amount of music is copyright free and requires no PRS licence to be performed as a street performer or busker. Hard up councils may use this excuse to try and stop disabled street performers from working. But you may not need one.


Music copyright lasts for 70 years after the composers death. There is an awful lot of music around that requires no PRS licence.


Some music will be put in the public domain by new artists wanting exposure, but anything that people will hear on most radio stations that you want to cover live requires a PRS licence.


Then there is this huge grey area call derivative music. This is mostly the stuff I play and is based on improvisational jazz. If you perform derivative music live, you require no PRS or copyright licence.


Your own compositions will not require you to purchase a PRS licence.

Backing tracks are almost always what's called a buy out. This means when you purchase the backing track track you buy permission to use it within certain limits such as perform it live but not for profit or licensed for local but not national radio or live to no more than 500 people etc. The backing track provider such as "Karaoke Version" will have all the clearance limitations on their site. This site also include vocals on the track so if you are a circus act and you want to play a Michael Jackson track without having to buy a PRS licence you can. Buy the track from "Karaoke Version" with the Michael Jackson sound alike and the right to use it in public is included in the price.

If a public authority says "you must have a PRS copyright licence to play or perform live music," its not nassesarally true.


So when I buy the backing track to “So What” a Jazz instrumental by Miles Davis, I have already paid for permission to use it, I don’t need any PRS licence for just the backing track. If I improvise my own composition over the top of the backing track, I still don’t need a PRS licence, that’s derivative music and my own composition anyway.

If I perform the Miles Davis melody over the backing track then I must have a PRS licence. If I perform an inversion of the Miles Davis melody I wont need a PRS licence. So I don’t play any copyrighted melodies. Its Jazz and instrumental music so for me its not that difficult.

If a live band plays the backing track then I am going to need a PRS licence.

The point is somebody is going have to pay something at sometime. Backing track licences are really cheap, just a few pounds per track for life included in the price.


If you buy the backing track to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran you don’t need a PRS licence to play it busking, you will have already purchased the permission to use it from the backing track company.

If you sing your own melody and words over the top of “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran backing track, you still wont need a PRS licence. If you sing the Ed Sheeran words and melody you will then require a PRS licence.

If you play guitar and perform the chords to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran live your going to need a PRS licence whether you put his or your own words and melody over the top.


Recent copyright court cases in the USA have made some interesting precedents. If you were to record your own version of the music bed to, but not the melody of ,Lets Get It On by Marvin Gaye, its just 4 chords like most song beds or underscores. Invert one of the chords, then make up a song or melody on top of it, that would be yours and its copyright free. We know because that’s exactly what Ed Sheeran did and the courts said it was OK.


So everyone go fill your boots on Ed Sheeran songs. Free.

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