Premier League, DLA Piper defeated at ECJ in key broadcast rights ruling

The European Court of Justice has ruled against the Premier League, advised by DLA Piper, after it ruled that it is not illegal for individuals to buy decoders from foreign broadcasters.

The long-anticipated Premier League decision could potentially mean that football fans will be able to watch matches at a reduced rate.

DLA Piper partner Simon Levine, who co chairs its global IP practice, instructed James Mellor QC of 8 New Square for the FA’s Premier League.

Mellor was also instructed for Media Protection Services, a non statutory investigative and prosecution body, which represented the interests of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). The group also instructed Helen Davies QC and Aidan Robertson QC of Brick Court.

On the opposing side 8 New Square’s Martin Howe QC was instructed by Molesworths Bright-Clegg partner Paul Dixon for pub landlord Karen Murphy and QC Leisure, a media installations company.

The UK Government, which intervened, instructed Brick Court’s Jemima Stratford QC.

The ECJ ruled: “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”.

The ruling will have major implications for broadcasters across Europe.

Ashurst partner Dominic Batchelor commented: “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.”

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 football matches in her Portsmouth pub. She began her legal challenge six years ago.   

The court said 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 on copyright grounds.

Such a  transmission should be regarded as a “communication to the public” and therefore the claimant would need the permission of the FA Premier League otherwise she was in breach of copyright.