Qatar Airways grounded by English court in PRS copyright claim

Posted: September 29, 2020

The High Court has dismissed Qatar Airways’ application to stay a copyright claim brought by the Performing Right Society over use of PRS music repertoire in QA’s in-flight entertainment system.[1]  

QA argued that Qatar was the natural forum, contending that most of the acts of alleged infringement occurred there, rather than in the UK.  Yet the judge found that the courts of either forum would have to apply laws other than their own, given the multi-national use of the music.  And while the case had real connections to both England and Qatar, the connections to Qatar were not significantly stronger than those to England.

Comment

QA has been refused permission to appeal by Birss J.  PRS has indicated that it intends to press ahead with its claim unless QA agrees to take a licence and to settle its liability for past infringements.

PRS views the action as a landmark case because, from May 2020, PRS has not directly licensed any airline that is domiciled outside the UK.  Its position is that QA must take a licence for the works within its repertoire, either on a worldwide or territory-by-territory basis. 

Sami Valkonen, the Chief International and Legal Officer of PRS, commented that “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”.  He added that the ruling was “an important first step in our unyielding quest to correct this long-standing injustice”, and that PRS hopes “to resolve this matter as efficiently as possible” on behalf of its members.

It seems that, if the PRS claim ultimately succeeds (whether in the courts or through a settlement), PRS may well look to license other airlines domiciled in territories that do not have established CMOs for the collective licensing of musical works.

Eleanor Steyn, Partner, Simkins LLP

To read the full article, click here.  Written for Entertainment Law Review.


[1] Performing Right Society Limited v Qatar Airways Group QCSC [2020] EWHC 1872 (Ch).