Claim for copyright infringement can proceed over inflight entertainment system.

For an intellectual property solicitor, this recent case of Performing Right Society Ltd v Qatar Airways Group from 17 July 2020 is an interesting one.

PRS is the collecting society for licence fees where music is played in public. They are UK based but they have worldwide coverage too. They claim that Qatar Airways are infringing copyright by not paying licence fees, for the music played and accessible through their inflight entertainment system Oryx One.

Qatar Airways sought to have the claim dismissed at a very early stage. The main ground for the application was forum non conveniens – meaning that it was challenging the jurisdiction of the English High Court – on the basis that Qatar was the natural forum because the vast majority of the acts of infringement occurred in Qatar. It said 98% of the defendant’s flights started or finished in Qatar, whereas only 5% of their flights either started or finished in the UK.

PRS sought a declaration of infringement of worldwide performing rights, an injunction and an inquiry as to damages, relying on UK and Qatari copyright laws and the laws of any other countries where the defendant’s aircraft were present from time to time, or through whose airspace they flew.

The Judge noted that although the aircraft spent more time in Qatar than in the UK, relevant acts did take place in the UK to an appreciable degree, and many others took place elsewhere. The case was really a global copyright dispute between UK holders of global rights and Qatari users of the protected content who were using it all over the world. The dispute therefore had a connection to every state to and from which the defendant flew planes. The dispute did clearly have a more real connection with the UK and Qatar than it did with any other state but, as between the two, the fact that a higher share of any damages might be due for acts to which Qatari law was applicable than those for which UK law was applicable did not make Qatar clearly and distinctly the forum with which the dispute had the most real and substantial connection.

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