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Football: European Court issues ground-breaking TV ruling

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Football: European Court issues ground-breaking TV ruling

Photo © Rui Araujo - Fotolia

(LONDON) - Highly lucrative sports broadcasting deals face a shake-up after the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday in favour of a British pub circumventing a monopoly on showing Premier League football on TV.

In a long-awaited judgement, the Luxembourg-based court sided with a British pub owner who was fined for showing live English Premier League (EPL) matches using a foreign satellite TV provider.

The ruling has potentially huge implications for the sale and marketing of not just coverage of the Premier League and other football leagues but also the broadcasting rights to other sports.

The EPL is the world's richest football league and its last three-year television deal, which runs out next season, brought in GBP 3.5 billion ($5.4 billion, 4.1 billion euros), of which GBP 1.4 billion was paid by foreign broadcasters.

The European court said in its judgement that "national legislation which prohibits the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services".

It "cannot be justified either in the light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums," it added.

The court said that under European law, the Premier League holds no copyright over the matches themselves.

However, it added that the broadcast in a pub of "protected works" -- such as the opening video sequence or the Premier League anthem -- requires the permission of the author.

The ruling centres on a case involving Karen Murphy, who runs The Red White & Blue pub in the Southsea area of Portsmouth on the southern English coast.

When Murphy took over the pub in 2004 she cancelled the license to show live EPL matches through British satellite broadcaster BSkyB and signed up with the far cheaper Greek service Nova instead.

The landlady said she paid an annual fee of GBP 800 (930 euros, $1,230) for Nova but would have had to pay GBP 700 a month for Sky.

The EPL, which has sold the rights to show live matches to BSkyB, took her to court in England and she had to pay almost GBP 8,000 in fines and costs.

But this year her case was referred to the ECJ, the highest legal body in the 27-country European Union.

As a result of Tuesday's ruling, the case will be referred back to the High Court in London.

Murphy said Tuesday she was "thrilled" by the ruling.

"It's been quite stressful and it has taken rather a long time but obviously it was worth it in the end. I'm glad I took it up. Even if it took up quite a chunk of my life, I'm glad I did it," she told the BBC.

Her lawyer Paul Dixon hailed the ruling as "a victory for all customers".

"It means pubs will have access to foreign satellites without fear," he said.

European football's ruling body UEFA -- which runs the Champions League -- said in a statement Tuesday that it did not expect the ruling to "change radically the way in which it distributes the media rights of its competitions".

The EPL and Sky both said they required more time to study the "complicated" ruling.

The EPL added it was "pleased that the judgement makes it clear that the screening in a pub of football-match broadcasts containing protected works requires the Premier League's authorisation".

It added that the EPL would continue to sell its broadcast rights "in a way that best meets the needs of our fans across Europe and the broadcast markets that serve them but is also compatible with European law".

Judgement of the European Court of Justice in Joined Cases C-403/08, C429/08 - Football Association Premier League and Others, Murphy - full texts

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