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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled against DLA Piper client the Premier League, stating that it is not illegal for individuals to buy decoders from foreign broadcasters.
The decision could mean that football fans will be able to watch matches at a reduced rate. According to RPC partner Stephen Smith, the ruling could have “dire consequences” for football rights holders.
Ashurst partner Dominic Batchelor agrees. “This decision means that football associations and other rights holders will have to tear up their strategy of granting access to broadcasts of matches and other content on a country-by-country basis,” he says.
The European judges ruled that 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”.
DLA Piper partner Simon Levine, who co-chairs the firm’s global IP practice, instructed James Mellor QC of 8 New Square for the Premier League. Mellor was also instructed for Media Protection Services, a non-statutory investigative and prosecution body that represented the interests of BSkyB. The group also instructed Helen Davies QC and Aidan Robertson QC of Brick Court Chambers.
On the opposing side, 8 New Square’s Martin Howe QC was instructed by Molesworths Bright-Clegg partner Paul Dixon for pub landlady Karen Murphy and QC Leisure, a media installations company.
The UK Government, which intervened, instructed Brick Court’s Jemima Stratford QC.
The ECJ found 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.
Murphy had been fined almost £8,000 for using a Greek decoder to show matches in her Portsmouth pub and began her legal challenge six years ago. The court said that while she was entitled to use the decoder she would not be allowed to show matches at cheaper rates than BSkyB charges commercial premises in the UK. Such a transmission should be regarded as a “communication to the public”, so the claimant would need the permission of the Premier League.
The case will now be referred back to the High Court in the UK for a final ruling.