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Premier League fans can buy cheap foreign TV coverage, EU rules


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Premier League fans can buy cheap foreign TV coverage, EU rules

• European Union's highest court rules it is not illegal for football fans to buy set top box decoder cards from foreign broadcasters

• Ruling could have huge impact on the way BSkyB and other broadcasters buy rights to sport, movies and foreign TV shows

Football fans will potentially be able to watch cut-price Premier League matches, after the European Union's highest court ruled on Tuesday that it is not illegal for individuals to buy set-top box decoder cards from foreign broadcasters.

The European court of justice ruled that the FA Premier League cannot stop individuals from seeking better deals for TV sports subscriptions than that offered by BSkyB – which paid more than £1bn for the UK broadcast rights for Premier League matches – from foreign broadcasters.

The ECJ said attempting to prohibit 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".

However, the court ruled against the bid by Karen Murphy, the landlady of the Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, to be allowed to use a Greek decoder card to show live Premier League matches to pub goers at much cheaper rates than BSkyB charges commercial premises in the UK on copyright grounds.

The ECJ said the transmission in a pub is a "communication to the public", which means that without the permission of the FA Premier League Murphy is in breach of the copyright directive. This directive would not stop individuals buying foreign decoder cards for domestic use.

However, the ECJ said live match coverage itself was not covered by copyright protection, although the Premier League could claim ownership of FAPL-branded opening video sequences, theme music, on-screen graphics and highlights of previous matches.

This means that as long as the FAPL and BSkyB ensure that match coverage includes enough copyright elements pubs will not be allowed to show foreign broadcasts.

The FA Premier League, which sells TV rights exclusively to broadcasters across Europe on a territory-by-territory basis, has been clamping down on British pubs buying in live coverage from foreign broadcasters.

The ECJ ruling could potentially have a huge impact on the way BSkyB and other UK and European broadcasters buy rights to sport, films and foreign TV shows. Sky's share price was down by just over 3% to 635.50p at about 9.20am on Tuesday, as the City reacted to the European ruling.

BSkyB makes about £200m a year in revenue from selling subscriptions to pubs and other commercial premises.

The ECJ also opened the door for the dismantling of the FAPL's country-specific sports rights regime, stating that such a system of selling matches to broadcasters is "irreconcilable" with the aim of EU law to create one internal market.

"Payment by the television stations of a premium in order to ensure themselves absolute territorial exclusivity goes beyond what is necessary to ensure the right holders appropriate remuneration," the ECJ said in its ruling. "Such a practice may result in artificial price differences between the partitioned national markets. Such partitioning and such an artificial price difference are irreconcilable with the fundamental aim of the treaty, which is completion of the internal market."

The ruling could force the FAPL to look to sell its broadcast rights as a pan-European TV deal, most probably to Sky, although it could look to limit sales to some European markets.

The Premier League will make more than £1.6bn in the UK from its current three-year deal with BSkyB and has a separate deal in this country for live match coverage with ESPN, along with a highlights deal with the BBC for Match of the Day.

The Premier League is believed to have made well in excess of £1bn in TV deals outside the UK for rights covering 2010 to 2013, almost double the £625m made under the previous deal period, with the popularity of the top English division booming in territories including the Middle East, north Africa, Hong Kong and Singapore.

No figures are given for Europe, however it is understood that France, Scandinavia and Germany are the most lucrative markets for Premier League rights.

The UK high court of justice will now make the final decision applying this ruling to the actual case of Karen Murphy, however the ECJ's decision is final and cannot be appealed.

Source: The Guardian

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However, the court ruled against the bid by Karen Murphy, the landlady of the Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, to be allowed to use a Greek decoder card to show live Premier League matches to pub goers at much cheaper rates than BSkyB charges commercial premises in the UK on copyright grounds.

This would have had the biggest impact, all that will happen now is that Sky will get pan European rights and charge everybody more.

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