Saturday 3 March 2012

PRS win big, even if for little money

News reaches us of a decision by Mr Kevin Prosser QC sitting as a Deputy Judge of the Chancery Division on the case of PRS Ltd v Alexander Burns and Williams Burn [2012] EWHC 221 (Ch) in an action against father and son defendants to restrain them from infringing PRS’s copyright in musical works by performing music in public and damages. It’s an interesting read and Prosser QC is somewhat critical of the role of Alexander Burns, the father, an acting solicitor in the running of the Remix Bar in Woking; the Judge was less than impressed with Mr Burns as a witness and went further saying “I wish to make a further, important, comment about Mr Burns. He had a very lax attitude towards the legal obligations which he and William owed to PRS”. Burn’s DJ son William’s activities were not without criticism with the judge saying “I was not impressed by his recollection of events. He was not at all concerned about performing music at Remix Bar in public without a licence from PRS (although I accept that he was relying on his father to advise him on this) and he failed to make or keep a proper written record of usage”. But in particular its a very interesting use of Section 97 of the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 in awarding damages.

The actual sums of money involved are quite small and having found "flagrant infringement" Prosser QC used PRS's figures (in default of any figures from the defendants) to assess damages saying he “would encourage the parties to adopt a broad brush approach on this issue, in order to avoid further costs being incurred. On that basis, I consider that, leaving aside additional damages, they should agree that the balance of unpaid royalties amounts to £2,000, and that damages are payable amounting to £3,000, making £5,000 in total, plus interest” .

Prosser QC then went to assess "such additional damages as the justice of the case may require" pursuant to Section 97 of the CDPA 1988 saying “In my view, Mr Burns is guilty of flagrant infringement; he believed that the 2006 licence had been terminated but he did nothing to stop PRS’ copyright being infringed. Moreover, as an experienced solicitor, his lax and uncooperative attitude as mentioned [at paragraph 18] above was totally unacceptable, and it has put PRS to a great deal of time and trouble as well as expense. For these reasons I consider that the justice of the case requires that he should pay additional damages. If my broad brush approach, mentioned above, is followed by the parties, then I consider that they should agree to additional damages of three times the standard damages, that is £9,000. However, I do not consider that the justice of the case requires the court to award additional damages against William, because I consider that he was understandably relying on his father”.

No injunction was granted as the lease on the Remix Bar had been surrendered by the Burns.

The case isn't on BAILII as yet, but Lexisweb have the case report here

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