Flash Mob Legal: Music Rights & Licences


Music Copyright for use in Flash Mobs

If you are planning an amazing flash mob for personal, charity or corporate use you’ll probably need to check whether you can legally use the music in your project. It’s likely that millions of the fantastic flash mob videos featured on the internet are actually breaking the law when it comes to securing licenses for the performance. Unfortunately, we can’t just use any music we like. Here’s the flash mob legal low down on music rights, licences and how we can help ensure your event is legal…

PRS for music

The majority of commercially available music is registered with PRS for music which helps artists get paid for their creative talent. Broadly speaking, every time a song is played the author is entitled to a small fee. This copyright lasts for 50 years from the end of the year when it was first published.

If you’re planning a flash mob then you may need a PRS license which allows you to play recorded music in public. Most venues such as pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels have these already and, assuming you have their permission to perform, no PRS is payable. If you’re planning on performing a flash mob in the street then you may need a PRS license.

Flash Mob Legal: Stay Happy

The brilliant Pharrell Williams released Happy in 2013. It quickly became a worldwide phenomenon and is the backdrop for thousands of ‘happy’ flash mobs. He’s a nice guy and it’s likely that he (or his record company) wouldn’t kick up a fuss on seeing the joy the flash mobs spread for voluntary and charitable events. However, artists can charge a huge premium for licensing via MCPS – the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society. In a nutshell, you need permission to use music in a commercial project where the end-user makes money from the recording. ie:

If, for example, Coca Cola wanted to include a chart song in a TV advert they will have to negotiate a license with the music’s author. This can be anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands. It may also transpire that the author doesn’t want to be associated with a particular project so they won’t take kindly to companies using their music without consent. It applies to any media – not just television – even videos on youtube, vimeo and social media.

License Free MusicHappy Flash Mob

We can help negotiate with MCPS if you need a particular piece of music for your project. If the budget is tight then there are affordable alternatives. It’s quite possible to use music from out- of-copyright catalogues although it can take a while to narrow down publishing information.
An alternative is to use professionally produced music that was created specifically for use in media presentations. We have access to a huge resource of commercially available music with tracks available from as little as £10.00. Finding the right one takes time. Our team can discuss your requirements in detail and we’ll select some suitable scores to use for your project.

If you’re set on using a particular soundtrack but the budget doesn’t allow for license purchase then we can provide alternatives. We’ll be happy to discuss your forthcoming project and ensure you have a sensational flash mob which covers the legal minefield of using other people’s music in your video and branding.

Performance Licenses

Whether a licence is needed for a performance of a play or a dance will depend on the circumstances. A licence is not required to stage a performance of a play or a performance of dance if:

  • it takes place between 8AM and 11PM; and
  • the audience is no more than 500 people.

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When you don’t need permission to film

If your project requires only a small crew — five people or fewer — using a handheld camera and your filming will not cause an obstruction then there is no restriction to filming on London’s public highway. In some boroughs this also extends to small crews with a tripod. No licence or any form of official permission is required.

Common law rights allow users of public highways to “pass and re-pass … and to make reasonable use of it”. Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 restricts these rights where the use of the highway causes an “obstruction” to other users rights of free passage. If you are considered to be causing an obstruction then there is a risk that you will be stopped from filming.

Filming Licenses

Some areas that seem like public streets are actually privately owned or managed. For example, London’s ‘public’ areas are managed by a number of agencies including:

  • The Royal Parks
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Parliament Square
  • The South Bank
  • London Underground

You need permission to film in any of these locations and you will usually be charged a fee.

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