Public Television, Copyright Law and the MPLC – Is Your Business at Risk?

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Public Television, Copyright Law and the MPLC – Is Your Business at Risk?

Over recent months our Director of Regulatory Services, Peter Adkins, who looks after many alcohol and entertainment licensed premises, has been dealing with regular enquiries about approaches from a company known as MPLC. These involve the Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC) demanding a licence fee. Do you need to pay?

Firstly, what is this all about? In June 2016 there was a change to Copyright law which has largely gone unnoticed until recently. In short if members of the public (or members of a social club) can watch television at your establishment, then a television licence alone may no longer be sufficient. You may have to obtain a further licence from MPLC. This licence is in addition to any licence you may hold already from the recently joined PPL and PRS.

This situation comes about following changes to Section 72 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) 1988. The effective result is venues need to hold a licence to watch TV programmes and/or films.

The exception to this rule is if your establishment solely shows news programmes or sporting events for which you have a separate licence, for example a subscription to BT Sport or Sky Sports. This is very often a useful exclusion for sports and social clubs.

Previously, Section 72 of the CDPA 1988 allowed public showings of films without permission as long as they were made with no admissions charge. For example, if a club allowed its members to view a television, provided they had a television licence and did not directly charge the members to view it, then the club would not have required the copyright-holder’s permission and would have been acting legally under Section 72.

Section 19 of the CDPA 1988 provides that presentation of copyrighted work to the public without the consent of the copyright holder is unlawful. The case of PRS v Harlequin, decided that showing of copyrighted material to people from diverse backgrounds, such as customers and staff, counts as a showing “in public”. Furthermore, clubs and institutions are not exempt either, if they draw their members from the public in general. Thus, allowing people to watch television in a commercial setting would count as presenting copyrighted material in public and so would be unlawful without the copyright-holder’s permission.

Following the ruling in Football Association Premier League Ltd v QC Leisure & Others, after June 15th 2016, the Government removed all reference to films from Section 72 of the CDPA 1988, in order to better harmonise British and EU Intellectual Property Law. The effect is that, in order to not violate Section 19 of the CDPA, if you wish to allow the public to watch television programmes, you must have the consent of every program’s copyright-holder. In a vacuum, this would be an unreasonable burden on an establishment, as there may be hundreds of programs shown per week on any given channel. However, the MPLC represent over 900 producers (including Disney, Miramax, 20th Century Fox, etc…), and offer an Umbrella licence that gives legal access to public showings of content from more than 850 rights holders. Furthermore, the titles, dates and times of viewings of content do not need to be reported and so the licence represents the best option for an establishment where television-watching is an incidental undertaking.

The MPLC licence is not necessary for news programmes or live sporting events, provided that a legal licence to view those has already been secured – a television licence in the first case, a subscription to the necessary sports channel in the latter. Therefore, if a premises has a television licence, a live subscription to BT Sport / Sky Sports and is showing a football match on that channel, then they would still be acting lawfully without an MPLC licence. This will continue to be the case if sports and news are the only programs watched at your establishments.

You should though tread carefully and ensure that the programmes which can be viewed are closely controlled. We would suggest the remote control stays behind the bar under the supervision of a nominated member of staff who fully understands the rules and implications.

There is more information on the MPLC website which you can access by clicking here

For more information, please contact Peter Adkins

If you need help with any licensing issue please see our licensing pages

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