Music Licences

Or why you will see tags such as #ppca, #ppl, #ppca-free, #ppl-free, #stream in the app.

Most countries have licensing systems in place that require a fee to be paid when music is played in a public space.  This includes cafes, bars, nightclubs, and gyms.  There are usually two payments – one for the actual playing of the music (the performing rights) and one for the authors of the songs (the publishing rights).  They are generally standard rates with the former being higher than the latter.  

The entity in Australia is called the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia which is usually abbreviated to PPCA. In the UK it is the Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL). The USA appears to have American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.), and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC).

In Australia in 2010 the group licensing the performing rights (PPCA) decided to massively increase their chargeable rate.  After court cases they were permitted to do so.  It meant that for each class using licenced music (such as a Les Mills one) a gym would see its music licence fee rise from about $2.50 for the performing rights to at least $15.00 – a minimum sixfold increase.  Multiply that by 30-100 classes a week depending on the size of the gym and understandably there was some consternation over this.  The general view was that it would become necessary to cut the majority of group fitness classes using original music in order to stay financially viable.

Recognising that Australia was one of its biggest markets Les Mills quickly started to release cover versions of the music in their releases there.  That meant gyms still had to pay the publishing rights fee (which stayed sensibly acceptable) but they now didn’t have to pay the performing rights fee.

So if you’re teaching in a gym that pays the performing rights fee then you can play the original music (these have tags such as #ppca and #ppl).  Otherwise you should play the cover versions (these have tags such as #ppca-free and #ppl-free). The latter ones are the equivalent to what used to be known as royalty-free music where you would purchase a CD of cover versions, usually all set to the same bpm and blending in to each other.

So who benefitted from the original spat all those years ago?  Well the PPCA lost some income as a lot of gyms switched over to using cover music.  It also showed other industries that was an option so damaged the PPCA’s reputation and influence.  Les Mills have to pay more because they need to make cover versions although they seem to have fallen on their feet with that in recent years as they can now use them as part of their LMOD product.  As someone who suffered through their introduction they’re competent tracks but rarely exceed the original so the participants lose out.  Overall, someone originally got greedy and everyone ended up losing.  Except the lawyers, of course.

As a consequence of this Les Mills stopped making the cover versions of BODYJAM after eleven releases because it was not financially viable.  That would have killed the programme in Australia.  However, a concerted social media campaign convinced Fitness First – the largest chain in the country with that programme – into negotiating a special licence with the PPCA only for that programme. That continues to this day with the original music while all other programme classes use the cover versions.  Fitness First comes in for a degree of (sometimes well-justified) criticism but in this particular case they deserve credit.