With the growing popularity of World Cup soccer in the Washington, D.C. area (According to ESPN, D.C. is the soccer viewing capital of the United States), more and more bars and restaurants are hosting watch parties and cashing in on the merriment of this quadrennial soccer carnival.
As with playing copyrighted music (See here for our post discussing music licenses), restaurant and bar owners need to know the licensing rules for broadcasting major sporting events at their establishments.
In the last several years, thousands of restaurants have been sued in federal court for allegedly intercepting and showing licensed sporting events illegally. The results of the lawsuits – defendant restaurants have been forced to pay $25,000, $50,000 and even upwards of $100,000 for statutory violations of federal law.
Many restaurants purchase commercial cable subscriptions and pay additional pay-per-view fees in order to broadcast certain sporting events at their establishments. Commercial pay-per-view licensees and exclusive domestic commercial distributor of such sporting programs as Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”) fighting matches, CONCACAF Champions League soccer matches, and FIFA’s World Cup games, monitor restaurants and bars to see who is broadcasting their programming. These licensees send private investigators, some with cameras, to document restaurants that show these sporting events. If the restaurant does not have a contract to show these events, or the restaurant is using a residential pay-per-view account rather than the more expensive business account, then the licensees or its agents sue the restaurant in federal court.
UFC has reported that from 2006 through January 2012, it collected $4.7 million in settlements from these commercial cases. J&J Sports Productions, Innovation Sports Management, Joe Hand Promotions, Inc, frequently file complaints in federal district court alleging violations of 47 U.S.C. § 605 of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, as amended (“FCA”), 47 U.S.C. § 553 of The Cable and Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, as amended, and common law conversion claims. Many of these law suits name the individual owners of the restaurants and bars as defendants along with the corporate entity.
Restaurants and bars who receive demand letters or complaints against them for these types of violations need to take these allegations seriously. The sports licensees have won a number of substantial default judgments against restaurants who have failed to respond to these complaints. Restaurants should read their cable/satellite contract or pay-per-view contract carefully to ensure it allows for the public broadcast of such sporting events.
Doyle, Barlow & Mazard PLLC has successfully defended clients against these types of cases in federal district court on behalf of restaurant clients. For more information, contact :