The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Monday 13th July 2009 - An unlicensed piano could land you in prison

Yes, it's true. Providing a piano for the public to play, or for a performer to play at a public concert, is a potential criminal offence under the Licensing Act 2003 - the legislation touted by ministers as 'a licensing regime for the 21st century'.

The pianos have to be licensed as 'entertainment facilities'. The rationale: public protection. Maximum penalty for unlicensed provision, where a licence is required: a £20,000 fine and six months in prison.

The implications for schools and music colleges could be serious. By contrast, of course, big screen broadcast entertainment is exempt, anywhere, anytime.

This is not some obscure anomaly of the legislation. The piano licensing requirement was in fact enforced vigorously by London councils to the 30 pianos set up only a few weeks ago in London streets under the 'Play me I'm your's' scheme: and

As Robert Hardman reported in the Daily Mail of 23 June:

'Every piano has required both planning permission and a temporary events licence, not to mention meetings with the police and a constellation of local government functionaries. There would actually be more pianos scattered across London were it not for the red tape and local jobsworths. Notting Hill, for example, likes to bang on about its wonderful carnival and its million-plus multicultural punters. Yet a few local residents have objected to a solitary, unamplified piano there. Without the time or resources for a planning battle (she has a shoestring budget of £14,000), Colette [one of the piano event organisers] has just taken that particular piano elsewhere. Some pianos have only been given council permits as long as they are padlocked all night. That would make sense if they were all in residential areas. But why, say, at Liverpool Street station? How is Knees Up, Mother Brown going to make more noise than the Stansted Express? When a trial piano went into action next to the Millennium Bridge the other day, a police community support officer was on the scene in an instant to check its credentials. You can burgle to your heart's content, but if you try to play Greensleeves on an unlicensed piano, matey, you're nicked. This event even surfaced in a House of Lords debate on licensing last week [the 'minor variations' debate on 15 June].'
[p32, 'Roll over Beethoven: How I see it']

It was Lord Clement-Jones who raised this during Parliamentary debate, and in a letter to The Guardian published on 15th June, pointing out that this turned the licensing clock back more than 100 years:

But what of the implications for schools? They provide pianos and many other musical instruments for pupils to perform with at school concerts open to the public and private concerts raising money for good causes (also licensable under the Act). Lord Clement-Jones has now raised this directly with government through two Parliamentary Questions:

'... to ask Her Majesty?s Government what information or guidance has been provided to schools and local authorities concerning the requirement to license the provision of musical instruments as ?entertainment facilities? under the Licensing Act 2003 where such instruments are used in public performances of live music or private performances that seek to raise money for good causes. HL4839'

'... to ask Her Majesty?s Government what proportion of schools in England and Wales are licensed under the Licensing Act 2003 for performances of live music and the provision of musical instruments as ?entertainment facilities?. HL4840'

See: (search on page for Clement-Jones)
Answers are expected by the end of July.


Hamish Birchall