18 June 2019

Football and music disputes dominating UK High Court

Premier League football may be in recess and music festivals in full swing, but football and music bodies are very busy in court.

Football and music continue to be the most active users of the UK High Court, according to new research from RPC, the City-headquartered law firm. The organisation that brought the most claims last year was the Football Association Premier League in first place, with 36 claims (year to March 31 2019).

Existential threat

The Performing Rights Society brought the second highest number of claims. Sky PLC (8 claims) and Phonographic Performance Limited (6 claims), a music licensing company, were the fifth and seventh most frequent claimants in the High Court. Many of the claims are cases brought against owners of pubs, bars and restaurant businesses. The pubs and bars who faced these court cases are alleged to have shown football matches or played recorded music without full permission to do so, sometimes using internet-based illegal streaming platforms to avoid paying a subscription fee to official providers. In January this year three business owners were jailed for providing illegal streaming access to Premier League football matches to over 1,000 pubs, bars and homes in England and Wales. Paul Joseph, partner at RPC, says “Football authorities have made a concerted public effort to let illegal streamers know that they are on their case.” Mr Joseph explained, “Rights holders will continue to use court action as a way of shutting out businesses who ‘steal’ their product for as long as is necessary. However, they will now hope that internet providers help them. The internet created huge, almost existential, challenges to business models of owners of music, films and other content so it’s not surprising that rights owners and bodies that represent them do all they can to protect their businesses.”

Opening floodgates

Premier League’s use of live blocking orders could “open floodgates” RPC says that rights holders are now using more powerful ‘live blocking orders’ to prevent people viewing their content illegally. In July 2017 the Premier League received a High Court order requiring internet service providers to use live blocking to shut down illegal streams of its matches - 200,000 illegal streams of its content were blocked over the 2017/18 season. Following its success, the Premier League obtained an extension to the High Court order for the 18/19 season. As a result, more rights holders are now using similar Court orders to help them protect copyright. Ben Mark, Partner at RPC, adds: “The responsibility of combatting illegal streaming is changing hands – the onus increasingly lies with internet providers, who have been ordered to stop streams at their source.” He said, “It could be that the success of the Premier League’s live blocking order opens the floodgates for other rights holders to use the same tactic.”

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