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: http://www.streetpianos.com/london2009/
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
(search on page for Clement-Jones)
Answers are expected by the end of July.