A pub company in the southern England county of Surrey has been found guilty of illegally airing Sky Sports in three of its pubs and ordered to pay a record £120,600 (€150,000) in fines and costs following an investigation by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
Merlin Inns Ltd, based in Cranleigh in Surrey and owning 14 public houses in the UK, pleaded guilty to 10 offences at Redhill Magistrates Court on April 4 2016 and was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay costs of £28,500.
Three Designated Premise Supervisors (DPS) also pleaded guilty to a total of three offences and were each fined £600 and a victim surcharge of £60 bringing the total to a record £120,600.
According to FACT, the record fine and costs demonstrates the seriousness of this crime and how pub companies as well as individuals can face criminal records and stiff financial penalties for illegally screening matches.
These convictions were carried out by FACT on behalf of its members and form a key part of Sky’s commitment to protecting pubs who invest in legitimate Sky Sports subscriptions. Sky is committed to visiting every licensed premises reported by other publicans and/or organisations for illegally showing Sky and will visit more than 700 pubs each week in towns and cities across the UK this season.
Stephen Gerrard, Prosecuting Manager at the Federation Against Copyright Theft said: “Regrettably for Merlin Inns Ltd they choose to ignore official notices alerting them to their illegal activity and refuse advice to legitimise their behaviour. Now the company is left with a substantial fine and three employees with criminal records. “
“This result should serve as a strong warning to any pub company or employee thinking of bypassing the legitimate process to think twice about their actions. It is a criminal offence which the courts, FACT and Sky take incredibly seriously.”
“Merlin Inns Ltd have also short changed law-abiding pubs in the area who legitimately pay commercial Sky subscriptions and are potentially losing customers to venues screening matches illegally.”
Alison Dolan, Deputy Managing Director at Sky Business, said: “The significant penalty applied in this case not only demonstrates how seriously the courts take the issue of fraudulently screening TV programmes, but also indicates just how significantly the suppliers of illegal equipment have been misleading publicans.”
“Anyone choosing to believe these suppliers, or who has been offered any kind of guarantee from an illegal supplier should take note: these suppliers cannot stop pub companies as well as individuals from getting a criminal record, as this latest result now shows.”
“The courts continue to send a clear message to publicans who consider fraudulently screening TV programmes in their venue – if you choose to televise content illegally then you run the very real risk of being caught and face substantial penalties and a criminal record.”