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British pub fined for illegally showcasing Sky Sports

The Devonport Arms, a pub in Paignton, UK. (Photo via Google Street View)
The Devonport Arms, a pub in Paignton, UK. (Photo via Google Street View)

The owners of a British sports bar received hefty fines this week after a local court found their business illegally offered sports broadcasts from Comcast-owned Sky satellite.

The husband-and-wife team behind the Devonport Arms in Paignton were ordered to pay £8,820 (around $11,250) in fines and court costs after the pub offered patrons access to several sporting events distributed through Sky without paying appropriate fees.

As in the United States, businesses in the United Kingdom are required to get permission from broadcasters and program owners for any public retransmission or performances of live television. Stateside, companies can simply sign up for business-specific programming packages through DirecTV, Dish Network, Comcast and other pay television platforms to satisfy the requirement.

In the United Kingdom, Sky offers a similar business-focused package, which includes the appropriate payments needed to clear public performance rights. The Devonport Arms purchased the service, called Sky Business, at a cost of £1,300 per month (about $1,650 per month), but stopped paying that fee when it was forced to close during the coronavirus health pandemic two years ago.

“We didn’t show Sky for 18 months,” Barry Stapleton, a co-owner of the Davenport Arms, told a local media outlet. “As long as they got their money, they didn’t care.”

At some point, the Sky plan was converted from a business account to a residential one, which allowed the Stapletons to save a considerable amount of money. They assumed Sky would simply ignore the conversion, as long as the bill got paid.

But Sky didn’t. Instead, they sent a legal demand asking the Stapletons to pay for the months when the pub was open and screened soccer matches and other live programming without paying for Sky Business.

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) worked with Sky to bring the court case against the Stapletons, who were ultimately found guilty on three charges of offering Sky’s programming in public without permission. Under British law, the offenses amount to violations of Sky’s copyright.

“This verdict further strengthens FACT’s commitment to protecting the rights of our broadcast partners,” Kieron Sharp, the CEO of FACT, said on Tuesday. “By pursuing those who engage in fraudulent practices and unlawfully showcase Sky content, FACT aims to create an effective deterrent to other licensees who may consider such actions.”

Barry Stapleton said the court case was unnecessary, and that he would have cleared up the issue if he had known about it. But FACT disputed this, saying court papers were hand-delivered to his address, where he or someone in his home received them.

“Now, more than ever, it is important that we protect the investment of our customers,” Sara Stewart, the head of compliance at Sky Business, said in a statement. “Businesses that choose to show Sky Sports illegally are directly impacting our legitimate customers’, who unfairly lose business to these venues.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).