Qatar Airways faces a potentially costly legal battle over alleged copyright infringement on music used in in-flight entertainment systems.
The UK Performing Right Society, which represents songwriters, composers and music publishers, has been given permission to challenge the airline in an English court over the use of its members’ repertoire without licence.
The society, also known as PRS for Music, said: “With no equivalent representative collective management organisation situated in Qatar, Qatar Airways has for decades evaded licensing the performing right in copyrights used in its in-flight services.
“After having sought to license Qatar Airways through customary business channels without response, PRS for Music started legal proceedings against Qatar Airways in December 2019.”
The High Court has now ruled that English courts have jurisdiction to hear the case.
In his 25-page decision Mr Justice Birss said the case was “really a global copyright dispute between a UK holder of those global rights and a Qatari user of the protected content who is using it all over the world”.
The PRS said that subject to any appeal, the case would now go to trial unless Qatar Airways obtained the necessary licences to cover the use of PRS repertoire, “both retrospectively and moving forwards”.
The judge’s decision could have repercussions for other airlines that use music content without paying for it.
Sami Valkonen, PRS chief international and legal officer, 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’s ruling is an important first step in our unyielding quest to correct this long-standing injustice and ensure fair compensation for our members from these airlines.”
Qatar Airways told TTG: "Qatar Airways does not intend to give detailed comment on an ongoing legal case. However, it should be noted that, firstly, no airline outside of the UK has a licence with PRS and therefore this is not a point unique to Qatar Airways.
"Secondly, this decision only relates to the matter of where the claim should be heard, and is not a judgment on the merits of the PRS claim. It is one of a number of procedural steps in the litigation that has been ongoing for several months."