Non-profit organisations that play music radio, TV or CDs in public areas have to buy licences from the Performing Rights Society, which collects royalties for songwriters.
Charities have sometimes been obliged to buy performance rights licences even if they do not intend to broadcast music in public.
Last year, Dam House, a non-profit stately home in Manchester, was charged because a copyright inspector believed customers in the public tea room could hear songs played on a radio used by the kitchen staff (Third Sector Online, 21 December 2007).
However, the Intellectual Property Office is consulting on proposals to change copyright rules, and non-profit bodies with incomes of less than £20,000 could be exempted from paying the performing rights licence.
Another option under discussion is requiring rights owners to charge royalties at an "equitable" rate, based on the size and nature of the organisation.
A spokesman for the Office of the Third Sector said: "It is important for the sector to have its say. There are good opportunities for small charities and others to benefit."
The consultation runs until 31 October.