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Football And Music Disputes Continue To Dominate UK High Court

WatchingFootballFootball and music bodies continue to be the most active users of the UK High Court, as they crack down on businesses breaching copyright law, shows new research from RPC, the City-headquartered law firm.

The organisation that brought the most claims to the High Court last year was the Football Association Premier League in first place, with 36 claims (year to March 31 2019). The Performing Rights Society brought the second highest number of claims, with 25 (see table below).

Sky PLC (which launched 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 brought by these businesses 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. They will hope that those considering breaching copyright law will think twice before doing so.”

“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.”

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. For example:

  • Matchroom Boxing, which used a live blocking order to require internet service providers to block illegal streams of bouts, such as Anthony Joshua v Alexander Povetkin in 2018
  • Queensbury Boxing, which obtained a court order requiring BT to block illegal streams of five boxing events, including Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury in December 2018
  • UEFA, which obtained a court order requiring BT to block illegal streams of UEFA football matches during the 2018/19 season.

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.”

“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.”

RPC adds that broadcasters paid £5.13bn for the rights to show Premier League football this year. Rights holders are therefore eager to ensure they are bringing in as much revenue as possible by stamping out those who use their services without paying for them.

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