Exclusives 31 May 2024

Law Schooled: The ins & outs of hosting a UK festival

31 May 2024
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Written By: Ikem Nwankwo with contribution from Sharon Ayi

As we gear up towards summertime in the United Kingdom, a few of our annual festivals are set to take place such as Wireless and Glastonbury Festival with stellar artists set to headline such as Jhus, 21 Savage, Nicki Minaj, Doja Cat and Loyle Carner. Amongst the excitement, there are a number of legal compliance issues that require careful attention to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all participants in attendance.

Legal compliance is defined as a set of processes and procedures within a specific program to ensure adherence to government regulations and laws. To put it into context, in order to successfully stage a large festival, legal compliance must be actioned to allow the festival to take place.

Attendance at large international festivals in recent years (Wireless 2022 and 2023 / Rolling Loud New York 2022 / Rolling Loud Miami 2023) has given a wider insight as to the severity of legal issues that should be addressed ahead of these types of events.

Licensing (and permits) are a huge requirement for staging festivals, whether small or large. The Licensing Act 2003 states councils are responsible for granting licenses for premises providing entertainment and alcohol. These are inclusive of various permits such as noise, health and trader licences.

With some of the biggest names in Hip-Hop and R&B set to perform at this year’s Wireless, the festival is highly anticipated. Ranking in as one of the UK’s top ten attended outdoor music events, Wireless is set to take place on a hot summers weekend in July (12th-14th), in North London’s Finsbury Park. Owned by Live Nation Entertainment and organised by its subsidiary, Festival Republic, the assembling of such a festival requires applying for various permits and permissions. As Finsbury Park falls within a residential area, under Haringey Council’s authority, it is important to highlight the requirement for a noise permit. Considering the integral role of music at a festival, a permit will be necessary as part of the overall premises licence if the decibels exceed the existing noise limits in the area. Noise levels on a Sunday are subject to strict monitoring and control. Additional measures are also taken to ensure that stage production and the arrangement of sound systems allow for optimal audio coverage throughout audience areas, whilst also mitigating off site environmental noise impact to the public. This type of permit is usually negotiated under the Code of Practice on Environmental Noise Control at Concerts (1995) with different permitted noise levels dependant on road distances. As part of the requirements, the organiser must secure a premises licence to ensure that there is efficient noise management in place that complies with the area codes.

Whilst such events can provide great entertainment, this is further supplemented with a great choice of food and beverages. Whether it is the VIP section of Wireless where there is access to cocktails and champagne or the Grey Goose or Dusse Lounge at Rolling Loud, bar companies and suppliers hold alcohol permits and work with the

festival organisers to ensure all necessary paperwork, including an extension of the permits held, are compliant with the overall nature of the event.

Over the next few months, anticipation will be building as fans eagerly look forward to performances by Future and Ice Spice who will have the festival crowd jumping and chanting their songs word for word. It is important to note that licensing is also mandatory for playing songs by artists and musicians who are scheduled to perform at festivals this summer. Music played or performed in a public setting and has the potential be broadcasted live (both visual or audio) is subject to a PRS (Performing Rights Society) festival licence.

Under The Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988, permission is needed from the relevant copyright holders, to play or perform music in public. The PRS festival licence ensures music creators are remunerated by way of royalties for the public performance of the music being played, thus maintaining a balanced ecosystem for artists within the music industry. This is separate to the artist(s) festival performance fee which is typically paid by the festival organiser.

PPL PRS offer services and licensing for festivals and other music related activity, including a package known as TheMusicLicence. Licenses are granted for festivals of various sizes, however, for larger venues that host over 200,000 individuals a longer processing time for applications may be required.

In order to further expand the reach of music audiences worldwide, festival organisers also partner up with broadcast partners to secure media platform deals which can include TV, radio and online coverage. To date, Glastonbury Festival continues its longstanding partnership with the BBC as its official host broadcaster with coverage spread across its TV channels, radio broadcasts (including BBC 1xtra) and streaming services across BBC iPlayer and Sounds. Over the years Live Nation Entertainment has also struck deals with MTV UK, Youtube and Melody VR as well as BBC 1Xtra for broadcast rights covering live footage across Wireless festival’s musical lineup.

Unfortunately, in recent years, incidents have highlighted what can occur when festivals, or, more so concerts are not thoroughly planned. In November 2021, Travis Scotts’ Astroworld Festival suffered a fatal crowd crush incident that resulted in ten people being pronounced dead. With the number of ticket holders being as high as 100,000, the wider issue of crowd control arose. Although city fire codes for festival capacity were permitted and additional security was arranged by local counties, the local authorities put in place plans to further limit attendees. NRG Park located in Houston, Texas, had raised several concerns about the ratio of guests to staff and the extent of the land being utilised. Despite efforts to address these issues by proposing remedial measures and increasing security presence, the devastating incident still occurred and left a profound impact in the state of Texas for large events.

In light of some of the potential risks at music festivals, attendees should be mindful when entering densely populated areas within crowded spaces and festival organisers

should ensure adequate security is put in place and relevant permits are obtained and approved by local authorities when considering the scale of the event,

Similarly, in the UK a crowd crush occurred at the Asake concert at London’s Brixton Academy on the 15 December 2022 resulting in the death of two women with a third person admitted to hospital as a critical care patient. The music venue’s licence was suspended shortly after, following heavy criticism of the incident. However, after a two-day hearing in September 2023, Lambeth Council, reinstated Brixton Academy’s venue licence with a set of robust new conditions which included new crowd management systems, enhanced security measures, new venue management and closer liaison with the police and licencing authorities. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires owners of such venues, including employees to conduct risk assessments and ensure there are effective measures in place for managing health and safety and emergency arrangements.

Another key aspect to take into account for overall compliance in festivals is the booking of tickets. During the checkout process of purchasing a ticket and upon entering valid card details, you are often presented with the option to purchase additional insurance to your ticket purchase. Festival attendees are required to take this into consideration as there have been incidents which have resulted in the cancellation of such events, often to the disappointment of many music fans and attendees seeking an opportunity to see their favourite artist(s) live. Afronation has faced cancellation on at least 5 different occasions, most recently for Nigeria’s debut in December 2023. Alongside many other live events that were cancelled in 2020, AfroNation experienced its biggest cancellation in 2020, amidst the Corona Virus outbreak . It sparked an enormous outrage as no refunds were issued, however tickets were to remain valid to next festival date of July 1st – 3rd 2021. In a situation like this, having premium insurance ensures the value of your purchase is reimbursed to you through a third party company. From an event organiser’s perspective, it is important to acquire event liability insurance, which further ensures protection from potential claims.

Whilst many of us are looking forward to enjoying ourselves at these upcoming festivals, for our own safety and of others, it is important to be aware of the legal compliance aspects and trust that event planners do their part to ensure these events are both safe and successful!