Brands & Merch Business News Labels & Publishers Legal

UK courts confirm they have jurisdiction of PRS’s dispute with Qatar Airways

By | Published on Monday 20 July 2020

PRS For Music

UK collecting society PRS last week won stage one of a legal battle with the airline Qatar Airways over its use of unlicensed music on its in-flight entertainment system.

Copyright matters in the sky can be interesting, because there is always the question as to which country’s laws are in effect. And when it comes to music licensing – especially with those elements of the song rights where collective licensing always applies – there is the additional question as to which collecting societies an airline gets its licences from.

Many airlines that offer music on their entertainment systems get a licence covering song rights from the collecting society in their home country, relying on that society’s reciprocal agreements with all the other performing rights organisations around the world to access a global catalogue. So non-UK airlines using music by PRS members would pay money to their local society which passes it on to the UK organisation.

However, there isn’t a collecting society in Qatar, so Qatar Airways doesn’t have a licence. That means it is using PRS repertoire without permission, which is copyright infringement. Except, infringement under what copyright laws? Which brings us back to that first interesting question.

UK courts do generally claim jurisdiction over any planes flying through British airspace as well as UK-based airlines anywhere in the world. But when PRS tried to sue Qatar Airways for copyright infringement through the London courts, the airline tried to have the case thrown out on jurisdiction grounds. As an airline based in Qatar, it argued, any infringement claim should be pursued in the Qatari courts. You know, the courts of the country that owns the airline.

Not so, said UK judge Colin Birss last week. Although this was a “global copyright dispute”, he reckoned PRS had sufficiently argued its case for London courts having jurisdiction, the litigation passing what is often known as the Spiliada Test, a key precedent on jurisdiction issues.

Welcoming the ruling, PRS’s Chief International And Legal Officer Sami Valkonen said: “Over the years, Gulf-based airlines have spent more than a billion pounds on various sports endorsements, yet refuse to remunerate our members for the use of their music on the airlines’ award-winning in-flight services”.

“Today‚Äôs ruling is an important first step”, he went on, “in our unyielding quest to correct this long-standing injustice and ensure fair compensation for our members from these airlines. We hope to resolve this matter as efficiently as possible on behalf of our members”.

The airline could as yet appeal last week’s ruling. But if it doesn’t, the case will proceed on Qatar Airways’ liability for copyright infringement.