European Court Ruling Sends Warning to Pubs on Broadcast of Premier League MatchesThursday 6th October 2011
Despite recent press reports to the contrary, the recent high profile case against Portsmouth landlady Karen Murphy has struck a blow to pubs that thought they had found a cheaper way to show Premier League matches by subscribing to foreign broadcasts instead of to BSkyB. The Court decided that her use of a Greek decoder card could be contrary to UK copyright law.
The European Court's ruling has been interpreted by some press reports as a victory for pubs. However, the result of the decision is more complex than this. In particular, the Court's findings on the copyright issues raised in the case could have a significant impact on pubs showing live matches broadcast by overseas providers.
Broadcasters of Premier League matches enter into agreements with the Football Association Premier League (FAPL) to ensure territorial exclusivity. In the UK, Sky and ESPN have exclusive rights to broadcast live Premier League matches.
The European Court (ECJ) this week ruled that the imposition of national laws prohibiting the import, sale or use of decoder cards to access foreign broadcasts of Premier League matches is contrary to EU laws designed to protect the freedom to provide services across the borders of the EU.
The ruling means that individuals should now be able to buy decoder cards to view foreign broadcasts of Premier League matches in their homes. It remains to be seen whether the language barrier will deter people from switching. The ruling poses problems for pubs wishing to show live matches using the decoder.
The ECJ concluded that football matches themselves are not protected by copyright, whilst elements of match broadcasts are protected by copyright. This includes the theme tune, opening titles, footage showing replays of previous games and on-screen graphics.
Thus, it looks like pubs will need permission from the FAPL to show any such elements (which are part and parcel of any broadcast). The FAPL could further strengthen its position by increasing the amount of copyright content in its broadcasts, for example by displaying a constant on-screen "Premier League" graphic. The FAPL may also consider new ways to package its broadcasting rights, with one option, subject to competition law concerns, being a pan-European broadcasting rights package.
Following the ECJ's ruling, the matter will now be sent back to the English High Court for judgment. It remains to be seen what the High Court decides on the copyright issue - but on first sight it does not look too good for pubs.
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