Calling the tune – PPL legal director David Harmsworth on music licensing, litigation and his pop picks of the year
Next time you are placed on hold by a phone operator or patiently queuing at the hairdresser, listen out for the background music. If it is a piece by an artist you recognise, there's a fairly good chance PPL legal director David Harmsworth and his team have had a role in that recording reaching your ears. If they haven't, they still may need to get involved. PPL – or Phonographic Performance Limited – is a non-profit organisation that grants companies licences to play music recorded by its members, which range from performers and session musicians to studio producers and composers. Given music played for personal consumption at home or at a private party are the only real exceptions, this adds up to a lot of licenses. At the last count, it was more than 300,000. When I meet Harmsworth at PPL's offices – the Bob Marley room to be exact – I cannot hear any background music, despite him assuring me he is a firm believer in workplace music. Which means PPL itself also has to have a PPL licence.
When David Harmsworth joined music licensing company PPL 10 years ago, its remit was just a fraction of the 300,000-plus licences it handles today. He talks to Alex Newman about managing with a relatively lean legal team, why he’s not afraid to stand up to major broadcasters and how a new US licensing regulation could unlock a fresh set of challenges
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