Premier League loses court battle

BY foxsports • October 4, 2011

The Premier League face a major upheaval in how they sell their TV rights after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in favour of a pub landlady who used a foreign decoder to show live matches at 3pm on Saturdays.

The ruling by the ECJ is likely to have major implications for how the broadcast rights are sold both in Britain and across Europe in the future.

The ruling effectively allows anyone to buy a cheaper decoder from elsewhere in Europe and watch Premier League games at any time.

The ECJ said in a statement: "A system of licences for the broadcasting of football matches which grants broadcasters territorial exclusivity on a member state basis and which prohibits television viewers from watching the broadcasts with a decoder card in other member states is contrary to EU law."

One option for the Premier League will be to sell their domestic rights and European rights as one giant package, but with no Saturday 3pm games included.

The Premier League are also likely to argue that the ECJ's ruling that "various graphics" shown before and during matches can be regarded as copyright will allow them to retain control of where the live games can be shown.

The case came to the ECJ after Portsmouth publican Karen Murphy appealed after losing a court action brought against her by the Premier League for using a cheap Greek satellite decoder. The case in the ECJ also involves the suppliers of such decoder cards to those pubs.

In the judgment, the ECJ ruled: "National legislation which prohibits 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 implications of the ruling could not just affect the Premier League but every sport that sells broadcast rights on a country-by-country basis. It is also how UEFA, for example, sell the rights for the Champions League.

The ECJ also ruled that only the opening video sequence, the Premier League anthem, and pre-recorded clips showing highlights of recent Premier League matches and various graphics could be protected by copyright.

"By contrast, the matches themselves are not works enjoying such protection," says the ruling.

Pubs would have to obtain permission to broadcast those opening sequences, said the ruling, but not the match itself.

The ECJ ruling was criticised by Tory MP Damian Collins, a member of the culture, media and sport select committee.

Collins said: "I think that there should be some Parliamentary scrutiny of this ruling and consideration of its wider implications for copyright, sports rights and the money that goes from those rights back into sport.

"It also seems to be ridiculous that the Premier League anthem is copyright protected but not the match footage. This is another unwelcome intervention in our national life from the ECJ."

Premier League insiders insist the ruling will not necessarily mean a drop in television income from mainland Europe, which is around £130million, or less than 10% of their total £1.4billion overseas rights deal.

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