Qatar Airways handed legal blow in major music copyright case

Qatar Airways handed legal blow in major music copyright case
Qatar Airways is accused of using music on its entertainment system with out a licence. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 22 July 2020

Qatar Airways handed legal blow in major music copyright case

Qatar Airways handed legal blow in major music copyright case
  • Copyright body suing Qatar Airways for using music on entertainment system without licence
  • London judge dismisses airline's attempt to stop the case going ahead in England

LONDON: Qatar Airways has lost the first stage of a legal battle over whether the airline committed a vast breach of copyright for music available on its planes.

A judge at the High Court in London dismissed the state-owned airline’s attempt to have the case thrown out on the grounds it should be heard in Doha rather than England.

The case has been brought by the Performing Right Society (PRS), which represents and collects royalties for tens of thousands of songwriters, composers and music publishers.

PRS accuses Qatar Airways of using songs from its collection on the airline’s in-flight entertainment system without a license.

The society is seeking damages from the airline for infringing performance rights for the music both in the UK, Qatar and other countries that its planes fly through.

Normally, airlines agree licenses from groups like PRS to provide the music to passengers.

In his ruling issued on Friday, Judge Colin Birrs said that while the case had connections to both Qatar and the UK, Qatar was not a more “natural forum” than London to hear the proceedings.

“The case is 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,” he said.

PRS welcomed the decision and blasted Qatar Airways for failing to remunerate its members for the use of their intellectual property.

“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,” Sami Valkonen, PRS’s chief international and legal officer, said. “We hope to resolve this matter as efficiently as possible on behalf of our members.”

PRS said it would push ahead with the case unless Qatar Airways agreed to take a license for its repertoire.

The society, which started proceedings in December, said the airline had spent decades evading the licensing of copyright protected music for its in-flight services.

PRS said it had only started legal action after attempts for Qatar Airways to agree a license through regular business channels failed.

A Qatar Airways spokesman said in a statement: “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.”

On its website, the airline trumpets its Oryx One entertainment system as “world class” and offers an app for passengers to browse films, TV shows and music before boarding.

The airline, the second largest in the Middle East after Emirates, has been battered in recent years after neighboring countries banned its planes from their airspaces in 2017.

The move was part of a boycott of Qatar by the Anti-Terror Quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt over Doha’s links to extremist groups.

Qatar Airways reported a $639 million loss for the year 2018 to 2019.

The airline said in May it would be slashing its workforce by 20 percent and cutting salaries in response to the coronavirus disease pandemic.