Performing copyright works in public

The right of public performance

The right to perform a copyright work in public is one of the exclusive rights belonging to the copyright owner.

Copyright owners have the right to control the public performance of the following works:

  • literary works including novels, plays and lyrics
  • dramatic works such as plays, ballet, choreography and mime
  • musical works such as instrumental compositions, melodies
  • sound recordings - the copyright owner has the right to control whether the sound recording is heard in public
  • films, whether the material is seen or heard in public.

If you wish to perform or play these works in public, you will usually have to obtain permission or a licence from the copyright owners. This will usually involve payment of a fee and detailed reporting on the individual works performed or sound recordings played. A fee is often charged even if the event is free.

Any performance outside the home is usually regarded as a public performance.

There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • performance in a classroom or lecture
    s28 of the Copyright Act permits the performance of works in a classroom for educational purposes, provided only staff and students of the University are present. Such performances are deemed not to be ‘public’ performances and licences are not required. For more information, see Classroom use.
  • performances under the Music Licence The Music Licence allows University staff and students to perform musical works in the repertoire of the societies for educational purposes and at University Events. For more information, see Musical works
  • music on hold
    Under the Music Licence, the University has the right to play recorded music from the societies’ repertoires on phones throughout the University
  • playing the radio and CDs in the University workplace
    Under the Music Licence, the University can play the radio or music on CD in the workplace, as it is played for the sole benefit of employees

Performances excluded from the Music Licence

Some performances are excluded from the Music licence including University events where an entry fee is charged or some types of musical works which are excluded from the Music Licence.

The appropriate licences would need to be obtained to perform these works.

Obtaining licences for public performances

If you are arranging public performances of copyright works or performances for educational purposes of works excluded from the Music Licence, you will need to obtain a licence from the organisations representing the rights holders, or in some cases, directly from the rights holders themselves.

Below are the contact details for some of the most common activities involving copyright works.

Contact point
Perform songs and musical works
You will need an APRA-AMCOS licence
Play live music
You will need an APRA-AMCOS licence
Play CDs and sound recordings
 You will need two licences - one from PPCA (covering the actual sound recording) plus one from APRA-AMCOS to cover the lyrics and musical works
Perform a musical, opera or operetta
Contact the copyright owner or their agent to obtain permission
The following local agents may be a good starting point:
Dominie Pty Ltd is a local agent for many plays
Hal Leonard Australia Pty Ltd
Origin Theatrical
Perform  a play
Contact the copyright owner or their agent to obtain permission
Dominie Pty Ltd is a local agent for many plays
Read from a novel, short story or poem
Start with the publisher of the work
You may not need permission to perform  a reasonable amount from these works provided acknowledgement is given

There have recently been some decisions by Australian courts which indicate that the occupier or owner of the premises where a performance takes place may be held responsible for ensuring that the appropriate copyright permissions and licences are obtained. If you arrange an event involving public performance of copyright works on University premises, you must ensure that permission has been obtained and the correct licences are in place.

If you are involved in arranging public events and hiring external performers, remember to check your hire agreement to establish who has the responsibility for obtaining licences and copyright permissions. Ensure that this matter is followed up – don’t assume that someone else will look after it!

For further information, see the Australian Copyright Council Information Sheet G64 Staging musicals, concerts and plays.