©Here ©hatter

A random, sometimes irreverent look at copyright and how this complex, perplexing aspect of law affects all our lives, on a daily basis – in education, in business, in the voluntary sector.

I’m Alan Rae and I’ve been a copyright fan for over 30 years, working in Scottish FE and latterly as a copyright consultant.  I work with all sectors of education, business and entrepreneurs raising copyright awareness and literacy.

Raised awareness of copyright (and other aspects of intellectual property that will be referred to in this blog) can bring considerable benefit to all those who either are trying to protect their own creative content or are using third party content in their own work.  Those benefits can help you be profitable, cut costs, share your content and stay out of jail.

Off we go!



man on the phone

Seriously, I need a licence to play “Music on Hold” on my business telephone system??

That’s sadly the case if you want to play recognisable music and not the “elevator” genre of anodyne gloop that passes for music on your telephone system while your eager clients are clamouring to speak to one of your customer relation operatives.

And none other than Ricky Ross from Scotland’s very own Deacon Blue, is just the man to consult on this heady matter. 

Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE – yes, they who sponsor Glasgow’s concert venue the Hydro) seemed to think that it was a wizard idea to bore their long-suffering telephone customers with one of Deacon Blue’s anthemic compositions, “Dignity”, played on a seemingly never ending loop.

The only problem with this is that according to Mr Ross, SSE’s  claim that they have the right to play this song (causing listeners to lose both their will to live, and any previous enthusiasm for the song) because they have a PRS for music licence, is false.  SSE may well have the necessary licences, but it appears that they may not have the permission from Mr Ross, the author of the song. 

For reference the appropriate PRS tariff is MH – Music on Hold, costing £134.00 per annum (for up to 5 telephone lines).

But wait, it doesn’t end there – not only is a PRS licence required – that only covers the composition of the song (lyrics and notation), but, as many business owners find to their cost (literally) a PPL licence is also required.  This licence, issued by the licensing agency with the most out-of-date name – Phonographic Performance Limited, applies to the sound recording of the songs used on the music on hold system.  The PPL licence, again, for up to 5 lines, will cost £169.99 per annum.

Therefore, for a small business, with just one telephone line the combined cost of entertaining their patient callers is £303 per annum- and of course that’s subject to VAT, adding another  £60 to the bill.

And woe betide anyone who is found to have been unlicensed for some time.  PRS will add a further 50% “Higher Rate” charge to the bill if they discover that this is the case.

Whatever use you make of music in your business and wherever it is played, there is a likelihood that you will require licences from both PRS for Music and PPL.  There is the hopeful belief held by many businesses that if  “it’s only a radio” being played, then all is fine.  Sorry, that’s not the case – if the music can be heard by the “public” – and that include your employees, then you need both licences.

Neither of the licensing organisations is slow at coming forward and will regularly contact any business they suspect of being unlicensed. That contact can come by phone or personal visit.

You can avoid paying the licences if you are happy to buy or licence music that has already been cleared for copyright. There are a number of agencies who will licence you music for a one-off payment and that you can then play whenever and wherever you like. 

If you search for music that doesn’t need to be licensed, there are outlets that will provide “copyright free” music. But be careful, please – copyright-free doesn’t mean that you don’t still have to pay for the music – it just means that you should only have a one-time payment.  There is no payment for Creative Commons music – you just need to copy the licence with the tracks you might want to use.



The Smithsonian Institution releases 2.8 million images into the public domain

This is a truly attention grabbing headline and worth some browsing if you are looking for images to populate any content you are considering for a publication, website, social media, essay or presentation.  There is a growing number of image galleries offering copyright cleared images for your use and the addition of the Smithsonian’s images increases the choice of interesting, engaging and novel images that will help you put your point across and  attract your viewer’s attention.

Other image galleries that are worth having a look at are:

These galleries have CCO images which mean that they don’t require any attribution at all.  Most Creative Commons (CC) licences have the minimum requirement for use that they are attributed, but that’s not the case with CCO.  Having said that, it is good practice to attribute other people’s work when you use it whether it’s an image, music, video or text.

My view on attribution is that it is a courtesy to say who the content provider is and it also gives a user a reference point if they wish to use other work or find out more about the creator.

And believe it or not, another good provider of free images is none other than Getty Images.  They have been offering free content for almost 6 years.  Here’s the announcement on the BBC News website:

Does this sound too good to be true?  Well, there are some restrictions, but for people wishing to populate blogs and/or social media, this is an excellent source.  If you make use of the images, you are required to embed a link to the Getty website, but that, as already mentioned, is just good practice of attribution.

Happy browsing!

Copyright in lockdown

Working and studying from home, moving from physical meetings to online meetings and having severe restrictions on public movement are bad enough without someone mentioning  “copyright”.  Copyright isn’t everyone’s idea of fun at the best of times, but sadly, in spite of the huge and lasting changes to our lives, to school, to work, to business and to enjoyment, it’s still with us.

Elsewhere in this website, there is information about the impact that copyright has on our daily lives, in business, education and entertainment. From the moment we switch on the radio and listen to copyright songs and broadcasts to the moment we relax later in the day with a copyright movie,  we are in constant connection with copyright.

Without going into a ridiculous amount of detail, all I can recommend for those who are making the shift from a physical to an online world is that you check the copyright licences that you have for any and all content that you would like to access in the move to online living.

You may also want to contact the rights holders of the content you would like to use.  Your licence may be fine for the physical world, but if you wish to share the content through digital platforms – business, education and social media, it would be advisable to check.

Some rights holders and their representatives such as licensing agencies, have made considerable concessions with copying limits for example.  This is very welcome, but we then have to remember that these concessions will be withdrawn when the current crisis ends.

We have to guard against falling into the habit of thinking that concessions will continue and be on our guard to remove any content that is currently approved, but will return to infringing if we continue to use it.

Like so many other things in life, look at your contract.  Some are appallingly drafted, other are appallingly complex, and I can guarantee, that for the most part, they are appallingly confusing

The content I am talking about includes images, sound, music, video and text.  Be very careful with music in particular – there is an enormous amount of infringing taking place just now with entertainment, exercise and quizzing videos featuring music that isn’t licensed.

The licensors may be taking a softly softly approach at the moment – I do know that PRS and PPL are deferring monthly payments for premises, but be very sure that situation will not last.

Keep on top of intellectual property – and remember it’s not just the content that you would like to use – it’s the content that you yourself have created – are you managing to keep control of it, or is your work being universally infringed?

Copyright in a World of Digital Delivery

Here’s a link to a webinar I contributed to on Friday 3 April 2020 as part of the Virtual Bridge series, organised and operated by Jisc and College Development Network.
My brief was “Now that we’re delivering the curriculum online for the most part, what does this mean for copyright as the content we share becomes wholly digital? No more photocopying or physical handouts as content is delivered via digital text, audio and video. Where does copyright fit in with this and what does it mean in terms of licences and legislation?”

A recording of the webinar is here:

And you can find the presentation, with supporting notes, here:

Moby music for free

If you are ever looking for free music to accompany a film you are making, as an independent, or as a film student, or as a non-profit organisation, please look here:

For a selection of over 200 tracks, some already published, some new, from the prolific composer and musician, Moby.

Would you like to read more?

Your guide to the copyright maze​

Don't get lost, don't get confused​, don't get caught

Copyright without the jargon

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