Bloomberg News

Premier League Wins U.K. Ruling Against Pubs on Broadcasts

February 04, 2012

(Updates with lawyer’s comment in eighth paragraph.)

Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- The Premier League, home to some of Europe’s most successful soccer clubs including Manchester United, won a copyright ruling against British pub owners who saved money using a non-U.K. decoder cards to show matches.

While the use of any European Union card is legal in the U.K., following a ruling last year by the bloc’s highest court, taverns still violate the league’s copyright when their patrons can view footage of previous matches, logos, pre-recorded video sequences and anthems that aren’t authorized for use across borders, Judge David Kitchin ruled today in London.

“The defendants who are continuing to trade must be entitled to carry on their business in a way which avoids infringement” of the Premier League’s copyrights “if they are able to do so,” Kitchin said. He issued an injunction against the pubs and referred the case for monetary damages.

The ruling incorporated a judgment from the European Union’s highest court in October, which limited how pub and bar owners may show copyrighted material to customers. The ruling by the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg held that the Premier League’s geographic restrictions on broadcasters showing its soccer matches breach EU antitrust rules.

The judgment “is consistent with the ECJ ruling,” Nick Noble, a Premier League spokesman, said in a statement. “The law gives us the right to prevent the unauthorized use of our copyrights in pubs and clubs when they are communicated to the public without our authority.”

Partial Setback

A call to Smithfield Partners in London, a law firm for one of the lead defendants, wasn’t immediately returned.

Today’s ruling was still a partial setback for the Premier League because it voided contract provisions that restrict foreign authorized broadcasters from supplying decoder cards to subscribers outside of their territory, said Daniel Geey, a lawyer with Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP in London.

“This may have significant implications for the way that the Premier League will be able to tender its matches in the next rights auction,” Geey said in an e-mail. “It appears that the Premier League will not be able to partition” EU countries.

The Premier League started a three-year 1.8 billion-pound ($2.85 billion) U.K. television contract in August 2010, and receives a further 1.4 billion pounds from the sale of international broadcast rights.

Territorial licenses are contrary to competition law if the license agreements “prohibit the supply of decoder cards to television viewers who wish to watch the broadcasts,” the EU court said last year. Pubs can’t show the feeds via foreign decoder cards without the permission of the copyright owner, such as the broadcasters and the league, it said.

British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, the U.K.’s biggest pay- TV operator, has said the foreign decoder cards are “illicit” because they’re used outside their specified area.

Karen Murphy, owner of the Red, White and Blue Pub in Southsea, England, faces a criminal lawsuit after buying a decoder card intended for home use that allows her to show league games from Greek television.

--Editors: Christopher Scinta, Anthony Aarons

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in London at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net


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