The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled against the Premier League in the landmark foreign satellite football case, in a move expected to herald a major shake-up in how broadcast rights are sold for screenings in pubs. The ECJ this morning 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 ECJ had been asked to rule on the issue after the Premier League sought to ban the import and use of the cards in the UK. The UK High Court also sought clarity in the case of Portsmouth pub licensee Karen Murphy, who had been prosecuted for screening games via a Greek decoder card. The ECJ ruled that a system of exclusive licences to broadcast games, handed out to different broadcasters in different countries, “is also contrary to European Union competition law” if the licence agreement bans supply of the cards for use outside the member state in which the licence has been granted. “It is true that European Union competition law does not, in principle, preclude a right holder from granting to a sole licensee the exclusive right to broadcast protected subject-matter by satellite, during a specified period, from a single member state of broadcast or from a number of member states of broadcast. “However, the licence agreements must not prohibit the broadcasters from effecting any cross-border provision of services that relates to the sporting events concerned, because such an agreement would enable each broadcaster to be granted absolute territorial exclusivity in the area covered by its licence, would therefore eliminate all competition between broadcasters in the field of those services and would thus partition the national markets in accordance with national borders.” On the issue of copyright, the ECJ said that the only parts of the broadcasts that are protected by copyright are the Premier League anthem, opening video sequences and “various graphics” and pre-recorded films showing highlights - not the games themselves. This means that other broadcasters could ‘top and tail’ their coverage to avoid copyright breaches. The judgement would need to be implemented by the Court of Appeal in the UK. Legal expert Peter Coulson that the European Court said: “This is a pretty comprehensive judgement in favour of Karen Murphy. The ruling will now come back to the court of appeal to decide how it will be implemented in UK law. “Until that happens, nothing has changed but invariably people will jump the gun. I think it will be very difficult indeed for MPS [Media Protection Services, which prosecutes on behalf of the Premier League] to prosecute anyone for using an EC foreign decoder card.” Click back later for more analysis and insights into the case.

Topics