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Showing the football: an expensive risk for pub landlords

Pub landlords gave a collective wince recently as it was announced that The Merchant’s Quay bar in Glasgow could face up to a £6000 fine. The issue? Allegedly showing English Premier League matches to patrons in breach of copyright.

Why the fine?

The pub is said to have infringed copyright by using a foreign internet feed or European digibox to show Premier League football. A fee must be paid to a copyright owner to show games in commercial premises such as a pub.

According to Premier League officials dozens of letters before action have been issued to publicans across Scotland and interim interdicts (orders to cease behaviour) have been issued to pubs who they also believe to be infringing copyright. In a first for Scotland a Court of Session judgement was made against The Merchants Quay and a fine will be issued at a later hearing.

A tough choice

Pubs can pay fees to copyright holders like Sky and BT allowing them to legally show games, however, it’s a big expense.

Big outlays are especially challenging for pubs now. Changes to drink-driving laws, alcohol minimum-pricing and the economy have taken their toll on the industry, for many football games offer a big opportunity to draw in customers. Many continue to show games using tech to try to evade paying fees while hoping they don’t get caught.

However, the viewing of games is increasingly valuable to the Premier League too and lately they have been cracking down on piracy. Competition between Sky and BT has driven the value of copyright up, a record £5.14bn over three seasons from 2016-17. Unsurprisingly it’s keen to protect its asset.

Being an early adopter is costly

Broadcasters invest heavily in football, not only in the right to show it. From cameras and lighting installed in stadiums to the cost of being early adopters of viewing technology. Sky and BT channels showed first in HD and when 4K TV arrives they will likely be one of the first to show in the format. The newest tech is expensive so recouping costs is vital.

Conclusion

As The Merchants Quays case shows, taking the risk and screening without permission can be more expensive than paying hefty licensing fees. Don’t expect the issue to go away any time soon.

If you have any questions regarding licensing fees you can get in touch with Robin Millar on 0141 428 3888

Robin Millar: rm@businesslaw.co.uk

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