High Court Rules on Premier League-Satellite TV Dispute

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Three years ago, the Premier League took out civil action against pub bosses and firms that supplied the pub bosses with “decoder cards,” allowing pubs to access encrypted games being broadcast in Greece and Italy. Digital box supplier, QC Leisure, and publican SR Leisure Limited are among the firms implicated, as well as Karen Murphy, a pub owner who showed Premier League matches using a QC decoder.

The case was sent to the European courts which meant UK prosecutions had to be put on hold. The EU courts decided that the sale and/or use of foreign decoder cards were contrary to the freedom to provide services. The courts claimed that live matches are not protected by copyright, but the surrounding media, such as edited highlights, the Premier League song, etc. are protected.

Following the EU ruling was the High Court hearing on the matter. According to the court, the Premier League has only proved its claims “to a limited extent”. However, in some ways, the importers of foreign satellite services are breaching copyright for allowing foreign broadcasts. In other words, the Premier League can take legal action against pubs for breach of copyright, but satellite importers are free to carry on their business for as long as it doesn't infringe any copyrights.

Lord Justice Kitchin said that “the defendants who are continuing to trade must be entitled to carry on their business in a way which avoids infringement of [Premier League] copyright if they are able to do so.” He added that it was “a restriction of competition” for the Premier League to have TV contracts with national broadcasters that prohibit them from broadcasting Premier League games outside their own country's borders.

A representative from Smithfield Partners, the legal firm representing QC Leisure and the other defendants, gave a statement saying: “Our clients are extremely pleased that, in line with the finding of the European Court, the judgment confirms that the majority of claims against our clients are to be dismissed. Insofar as there has been a finding of infringement relating to a limited number of artistic works our clients also welcome Lord Justice Kitchin's confirmation that they must be entitled to carry on their business in a way which avoids any such infringement.”

The Premier League representative sang a similar tune of victory, however, when they said: “Lord Justice Kitchin's judgment is consistent with the ECJ ruling. It is clear that the law gives us the right to prevent the unauthorised use of our copyrights in pubs and clubs when they are communicated to the public without our authority. We will now resume actions against publicans who are using European Economic Area foreign satellite systems to show Premier League football on their premises unlawfully and without our authority.

“There are other elements of the ECJ ruling which we believe are applicable under UK law and we will continue to explore these to protect our rights via the courts and other legal means.”

The Lord Justice claims that the situation has raised “issues of wide interest and general importance.” He clarified that a lower court will need to assess what profits the pubs have made, and what losses both the Premier League and the broadcasters have suffered. The Smithfield Partners representative said that “only nominal or trivial damages have been suffered” by the Premier League.

According to Daniel Geey, an expert on sport broadcasting issues, the High Court will “ make a declaration which will set out the precise infringing acts established against QC Leisure and the other defendants.” No doubt that this dispute will have “ significant implications for the way that the Premier League will be able to tender its matches in the next rights auction.”


Premier League football has a television income of £130million in mainland Europe and £1.4billion in overseas rights.
 
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