Screening the match? Make sure it's legal

Record £120k fine for Surrey pub group illegally broadcasting Sky Sports

On Monday 4 April, Merlin Inns Ltd, a Cranleigh-based pub company, pleaded guilty to 10 offences of having illegally televised Sky Sports in three of its pubs. The total fines amounted to £120,600 including personal fines of £600 and a criminal record for three designated premises supervisors.

The convictions were carried out by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) which stated after the hearing:

“Regrettably for Merlin Inns Ltd they chose to ignore official notices alerting them to their illegal activity and refuse advice to legitimise their behaviour. Now the company is left with a substantial fine and three employees with criminal records.

“This result should serve as a strong warning to any pub company or employee thinking of bypassing the legitimate process to think twice about their actions. It is a criminal offence which the courts, FACT and Sky take incredibly seriously.”

The only legal way to screen Sky Sports in the UK is via an agreement with Sky Business.  Broadcasting through any other source (e.g. via unauthorised foreign channels or using foreign decoders) will be an infringement of Sky’s copyright.

In relation to the Merlin case, Alison Dolan, Deputy Managing Director at Sky Business said:

“Anyone choosing to believe these suppliers, or who has been offered any kind of guarantee from an illegal supplier should take note: these suppliers cannot stop pub companies as well as individuals from getting a criminal record, as this latest result now shows.

“The courts continue to send a clear message to publicans who consider fraudulently screening TV programmes in their venue – if you choose to televise content illegally then you run the very real risk of being caught and face substantial penalties and a criminal record.”

Merlin Inns Ltd have said they are considering an appeal, believing the record fine to be “completely disproportionate to the offence”.

The case serves as a welcome reminder for pub companies and their employees not only to ensure that they have a TV licence in place, but also that they have a valid commercial viewing agreement from the relevant providers.  In Sky’s case, legitimate commercial subscribers receive a Sky licence to display in their window and will also see a pint glass icon appear on their TV screen from time-to-time. The lack of either of these can reveal who is ‐ and most importantly, who is not ‐ showing Sky broadcasts legally. 

Businesses must be sure that they have valid registrations and licenses in place in all applicable areas.  In addition to commercial viewing agreements, these might include:

Limited companies should also regularly check that their company books, registers and Companies House filings are up to date (see our recent news article in relation to the new requirement to hold a “PSC Register” here). 

If you would like to discuss any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact Beverley Whittaker, Gary Parnell, Charles Maurice or another member of the Stevens & Bolton team.

Contact our experts for further advice

Gary Parnell, Charles Maurice, Beverley Whittaker

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