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Disputes over football and music copyright dominate in High Court

Published on 30 October 2017

Football and music bodies were the top three most frequent claimants in the High Court last year*, as the two industries look to protect their intellectual property.

An analysis of High Court cases by RPC shows that the leading claimants in the High Court last year were:

  1.  PPL (formerly known as Phonographic Performance Limited) - a major UK licensing body - brought 106 cases to the High Court.
  2. The Football Association - 39 cases.
  3. Performing Right Society Limited - 27 cases

RPC says that the number of claims made by the Football Association has increased over the last few years, driven in part by a number of cases against pubs and restaurant businesses. In 2013, just five cases were brought to the High Court by the Football Association.

The high number of cases brought by the Football Association could be part of the effort to counter the losses caused by viewers streaming matches illegally. Viewing figures for Premier League games fell last season through some subscription services, with illegal streaming services likely to have played a part in the drop.

BT and Sky, which both broadcast domestic football in the UK, were also in the Top 10, with eight and six cases respectively.

The UK’s football governing body has focussed its clampdown on owners of pubs and bars that are either not paying a full license fee or using illegal streaming services themselves.

Pub owners can infringe copyright by, for example, using an individual licence fee to show games rather than a specifically priced ‘business’ package, or using illegal streaming services. Pubs are also easier to pursue and establish copyright infringement cases against than individuals.

Ciara Cullen, Partner adds: “The Football Association is tackling illegal streaming and underpayment of licensing fees with a robust litigation strategy – and pubs are feeling the brunt of the challenge.”

“Broadcasting companies which own the rights to certain games, no doubt want football’s governing bodies to do a good job at protecting against unlicensed coverage in order to protect their valuable assets.”

“Part of the Football Association strategy will often be to target pubs without a licence for infringing copyright.”

Music companies take the lion’s share of High Court claimants

The music industry has cracked down on nightclubs, pubs and restaurants that play music without paying the appropriate royalties to do so, according to RPC. Claims against nightclub, pub and restaurant companies accounted for 23% of the 106 High Court cases brought by PPL.

Music companies, which have experienced a fall in revenues as streaming music replaces physical sales, have had to adopt this aggressive stance in order to recoup some of the income lost to piracy.

RPC adds that the value owed to companies through licensing bodies such as PPL and Performing Right Society by organisations they deem have not paid the proper royalties for music performed on the premises, can be substantial.

Ciara adds: “Legal action can be an effective way for music companies and their representatives to recoup some of the money lost from reduced sales from the digitalisation of music content.”

“Pubs, restaurants and nightclubs can be easier to pursue for potential copyright infringement than other culprits such as illegal file sharing websites that tend to be based off-shore.”

“Not only do the considerable damages make the process of going to court worth it for record labels or performers, but they can also help to act as a deterrent for other offenders.”

Football and Music lead copyright disputes in the High Court- Top 10 claimants in the High Court

 *Analysis of High Court cases by RPC, year end March 31st 2017