U.K. home entertainment distributors are claiming victory in the ongoing battle over premium pricing of rental DVD and VHS films following a High Court ruling in the last week.

LONDON (The Hollywood Reporter) -- U.K. home entertainment distributors are claiming victory in the ongoing battle over premium pricing of rental DVD and VHS films following a High Court ruling in the last week.

The legal action was launched by the distributors, under the Rental Rights Protection Programme (RRPP), against four dealers found to be renting sell-through product in contravention of the European rental rights directive, which allows distributors to charge a premium for the right to rent.

The RRPP confirmed in a statement that "it has secured court orders against a further four defendants for copyright infringement following a successful hearing at the High Court in London" on Nov. 16.

Under the court orders, the dealers are prohibited from renting retail product. The orders allow the distributors to visit the dealers' premises and inspect their stock and records to ensure compliance. If any of the dealers are found renting retail product again, they may be in contempt of court and face heavy fines and possibly imprisonment.

All four dealers were ordered to pay as-yet-undetermined damages, and two who contested the hearing were told to pay £4,350 ($8,089) each in legal costs.

The issue of two-tier pricing has proved divisive across the United Kingdom and Europe, where dealers have protested the introduction of higher prices with no window to sell through.

In the United Kingdom, independent rental dealers have widely flouted the restriction on renting sell-through releases, as have dealers in Portugal and Spain, where Universal Pictures International has reintroduced a one-week window between rental and sell-through releases. "This is a short-term measure taken by UPI in this territory [while] the monitoring of the Rental Right Directive has been established. This decision will be reviewed in spring 2005," UPI said in a statement.

Commenting on the court orders, Richard Crook, U.K. sales director at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said: "I am delighted that the court has defended our rental rights as a studio. More importantly, however, this judgment defends the rights of every law-abiding rental retailer to be able to compete on a level playing field and not suffer unfair competition from less scrupulous dealers."

The Federation Against Copyright Theft oversees the RRPP, which is funded by distributors Buena Vista Home Entertainment (U.K. & Ireland), Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures (U.K.) and Warner Home Video.