Landlady wins foreign decoder battle against Sky and Premier League

European Court of Justice decides that banning foreign decoders isn't fair or right

October 5, 2011

The regulars of the Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth are most likely toasting their landlady, Karen Murphy.

It’s not many pub owners who can take on the might of Sky and the Premier League in the courts and come away victorious.

This story began some time ago when Murphy got hold of a budget priced Greek decoder to show football matches in her pub. It cost her just £120 a month, a quarter of what Sky charges at £480 (and that’s quite cheap by all accounts, compared to what some establishments pay).

Sky has been going after those taking on cheap European providers, however, and back in 2005 they took Murphy to court and won, landing her with an £8,000 bill in fines and costs which made her cheap footy scheme not so cheap.

However, as the BBC reports, she didn’t let it lie at this, and took up the case with the European Court of Justice.

And lo and behold, the ECJ has just decided that national laws which prohibit the import of foreign decoder cards run against the principle of the freedom to provide services.

Therefore Murphy’s actions were justified – to a point, because the judgement made by the ECJ wasn’t quite as simple as this.

It did state that the Premier League and Sky couldn’t argue copyright on a broadcasted football match, as it didn’t represent a “work” they had created as such. It is, after all, just some blokes kicking a ball around for 90 minutes (96 minutes if you’re Man Utd and losing at Old Trafford).

However, the muddiness comes into the judgement when you consider that the ECJ did concede that pre-match content, highlight reels, graphics and so forth were created and thus copyrighted.

In theory, a pub landlord or lady could get round this by just starting to show a match after kick-off. But then it wouldn’t take much for Sky to add branding, logos, graphics and such while the match is being shown, to cause copyright complications.

The upshot is while Murphy has technically won a victory – providing the judgement is ratified by the British High Court, which it almost certainly will be – in practice, pubs around the country aren’t likely to be able to start getting cheap foreign deals on football in.

The Premier League and Sky will have to re-examine their position in the light of this judgement, though, and no doubt some changes will be forthcoming.

Exactly what will happen depends on what the High Court makes of the details of the ECJ’s ruling.

Whatever happens, you can guarantee that big football and Sky won’t be losing money, one way or another. Even if they have to recoup it elsewhere in terms of higher prices for European rights, or God forbid, the likes of match ticket prices.


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