ECJ Rules on Pub’s Rights to Show Live Premiership Football

October 5, 2011

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Photo by Gordon Marino via flickr

Mixed feelings may be sweeping Karen Murphy’s much-publicised Red, White and Blue pub in Southsea today, as the implications of her nominal victory over Sky and the Premier League in the European Court of Justice start to take effect.

Murphy had originally appealed to Europe’s highest court after being convicted and fined £8,000 for showing Premiership games using a Greek decoder card, which allows access to each of the season’s 380 games, instead of the more expensive Sky card, which does not show 3pm Saturday kick-offs, over half of the league’s schedule. She argued that being unable to choose where she could purchase live matches presented a breach of European market laws.

Her celebration could be short-lived, however, as the ruling also makes the distinction between home and public use of the games, which are still protected as intellectual property of the Premier League, in particular the production elements like theme tunes and the League logo: “the screening in a pub of football-match broadcasts containing protected works requires the authorisation of the author of those works.” In effect, Murphy may watch at home, but her pub’s rights to show games still lie with the League.

In the next eighteen months until the next round of negotiations for overseas rights to the games, consumers will be able to shop around the continent for better deals on decoders. After that, the Premier League may alter its approach in line with the new ruling to provide a single, pan-European broadcast that may, in fact, increase its overseas revenue while keeping its pubs and clubs business effectively shored up at home.

Some commentators have hailed the decision as a victory against Sky’s monopoly on football broadcasting in the UK, however. The prohibition on the “import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services and cannot be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums”, the court found.

Conservative MEP and sports spokesman Emma McClarkin believes the billions of pounds earned by the Premier League should be protected, in order to preserve the grass-roots campaigns promoted by the organisation. “Money from television rights is funnelled back into developing the stars of the future, and I fear that this ruling will have detrimental effects on our national teams,” said McClarkin.

The FIFA rankings of the four UK national teams in 1993, the first season of the Premier League, stood like this: England – 5th, Scotland – 24th, Wales – 29th, Northern Ireland 39th. Eighteen years later, during which time the league’s revenues have grown from £304m to £3.5bn: England – 6th, Scotland – 52nd, Wales – 90th, Northern Ireland 70th.

How do you think the ruling will affect your football-watching experience? Let us know in the comments.

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