Public performance of copyright works by performers (other than the copyright owner)

A couple of days back, as I crossed London’s Victoria Street, the strains of Adele’s “Hello” reached my ears,

No, the song wasn’t being played by the artist herself, but by a busker and he was playing it extremely well on an electric violin. On hearing the music my first thought was “this busker has talent” (as indeed he had). However, as a poet (and as someone who holds the copyright to my own work), my second thought was “how does copyright work in such situations? does the busker require the explicit permission of the person who’s music they are playing?”

In search of an answer to the above questions I turned to Mr Google. The website advises that busking is not illegal in England and Wales and explains that a licence may be required to busk, Nowhere on the webpage is there an explanation as to whether the licence simply provides a permission to busk, or whether such permission also extends to the right to play copyright works of living artists.

The Copyright Licencing Agency is more helpful and states:

“The main works currently protected by copyright in the UK include:

Original literary works (such as novels, poems, tables, lists, and computer programmes)
Original dramatic works
Original musical works (i.e. the musical notes themselves)
Original artistic works
Sound recordings
Typographical arrangements (i.e. the layout or actual appearance) of published editions”, (

I was, of course aware that my work (as a poet) is protected by copyright, and its my understanding that anyone wishing to perform my poems in public would need to gain my explicit permission in writing prior to doing so. I am, however still somewhat vague as regards the rules on busking. Does anyone know whether in addition to obtaining a licence to busk, whether the musician/performer needs to obtain written permission from the entity who’s art they wish to perform?

Of course the argument can be made that the artist who’s work is being performed (by others) is gaining free publicity and this may help to enhance their visibility and/or the sale of their work. There may be some truth in this perspective (particularly if the busker/performer is of a high quality), however copyright (rightly) exists to protect the rights of copyright owners and ought not to be breeched. The copyright owner is entitled to his/her pound of flesh/money, unless they choose to wave such rights in specific (or all) instances.

(Please note, I have no reason to believe that the person busking was doing anything illegal and given the highly public nature of the place of their performance I feel sure that they possessed all the necessary permissions).


3 thoughts on “Public performance of copyright works by performers (other than the copyright owner)

  1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    If I understand it correctly, in the case of street performers (e.g. buskers) the relevant local authority may hold a public performance licence from PRS to allow the outdoor performance of music. Therefore, obtaining the paperwork to perform via the local authority gives them permission to do so. Bearing in mind most local authorities will gain permission that covers a large selection of works, so as to allow for street performances they themselves want to arrange.


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