Music rights agency and Football Association/Premier League dramatically increase High Court claims for copyright infringement

One body alone brought three times as many claims for intellectual property (IP) infringement were brought to the High Court than the next most frequent claim in 2014.

PPL (formerly Phonographic Performance Limited), launched 230 cases in the High Court last year, analysis by City law firm RPC shows. This represents an increase of 11 per cent, compared to the 209 disputes brought in 2013, and is indicative of the UK’s music industry ramping up efforts to protect its IP rights.

PPL is a UK-based music licensing company that licenses recorded music played in public or broadcast on the radio or TV, and represents both record companies and performers.

RPC say that PPL accounted for 6 per cent of all cases heard in the High Court. The next most frequent initiator of cases, Capital Home Loans, accounted for just 75 cases, or 2 per cent of all cases.

The bulk of claims launched by PPL are likely to be for alleged copyright infringements against operators of nightclubs, pubs and similar leisure establishments, which the organisation says do not hold the appropriate licence for music played on such premises.

Paul Joseph, a partner in RPC’s IP department, explained that the fall in revenues from the sale of recorded music as a result of online piracy has fuelled the music industry to protecting its rights by enforcing licensing requirements.

“The music industry in the UK has nightclub and pub businesses firmly in its sights,” said Joseph. “While annual music licensing fees are typically modest, unpaid fees can quickly mount up over the course of a few years. PPL is quite willing to go all the way to the High Court to enforce its licences, as well as for the deterrent effect of an order for compensation.”

Football copyright

The music industry is not alone in dramatically increasing the number of claims brought for infringement in 2014. RPC found that the Football Association/Premier League (FAPL) has also increased the number of claims launched in 2014 with seven times more cases filed than in 2013.

The number of High Court claims has increased sevenfold, from just five in 2013 to 36 last year, driven by the Premier League’s governing body moving against pubs for broadcasting football matches without an appropriate licence.

Though a 2012 High Court ruling against the FAPL in favour of a pub owner in Portsmouth raised the prospect of pubs being able to legally screen games from foreign broadcasters without a UK licence, the court ruled the FAPL held the copyright in the production features of the broadcasts, such as the opening video sequence, the Premier League anthem and graphics. It is these production features that are increasingly being targeted by the FAPL for breaching copyright.

Jeremy Drew, an IP and sports law partner at RPC continues: “The [FAPL] is more than prepared to pursue pubs and other venues that they think are screening games illegally. The [FAPL] is using the High Court to enforce its UK licensing structure and recoup costs and damages from pubs acting illegally. It has also been active in obtaining High Court orders to block streaming sites from providing web access to live streams of Premier League football matches for free – which is also likely to catch out those pubs or members of the public that may use these websites.”

This story was first published on Solicitors Journal on 16 February 2015 and is reproduced with kind permission