Suspended prison sentence for contempt of court for repeat copyright infringer: PPL v Tierney

November 2003

Record Labels, Music Publishers, Live Concert

Regular ‘users’ of music who either refuse to pay licence fees at all or who do so only under threat of legal proceedings are the bane of music collecting societies. The threat of legal proceedings does not always dissuade a repeat infringer. Furthermore, some infringers are prepared to ignore court orders or undertakings which they have given to the court. In this case the defendant Mr Tierney, the proprietor of an establishment in Guildford, breached a court order by failing to pay licence fees to Phonographic Performance Ltd in relation to certain sound recordings played at his establishment. He had also failed to comply with undertakings given to the court on a number of occasions. Failure to comply with a court order is a contempt of court which is punishable by a fine or an order for committal to prison.
PPL applied for an order to commit Mr Tierney for contempt of court in respect of his failure to comply with the court order. It had reportedly made seven previous applications of this nature against Mr Tierney. PPL succeeded in its application. Mr Tierney had been warned of the consequences of further breaches of the court order only six months previously. The court imposed a term of imprisonment of 35 days. In order that the sentence had the effect of ensuring future compliance, the court suspended the sentence for 40 months.
This case demonstrates that the courts are prepared to impose prison sentences on those who breach court orders designed to prevent copyright infringement. It sends a clear message that the courts will support collecting societies in their efforts to deal with persistent offenders.

This is an edited version of a ‘Simkins Early Warning’ written by Martyn Bailey and Dawn Hutton at the Simkins Partnership. This update is © The Simkins Partnership. This bulletin is for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters.
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