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Premier League Declared Offside
By Christopher J Sherliker

Pub owners across the country breathed a sigh of relief when pub landlady Karen Murphy won the latest stage of her fight against the Premier League over her use of a foreign satellite decoder to screen football matches. On the face of it, this is a cause for celebration for the pub trade, and looks like a blow for the Premier League and broadcasters Sky and ESPN.

However, pub owners should think again before rushing to screen cheap satellite football, despite this landmark legal ruling. Property and Licensing Partner Maria Guida and Intellectual Property Partner, Dennis Lee explore the issues.

As we reported earlier this year in February’sEwire, Karen Murphy was forced to pay nearly £8,000 in fines and costs for using a cheaper Greek decoder in her Portsmouth pub to bypass controls over match screening.

Undeterred by this, she took her case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The ECJ now says national laws which prohibit the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards are contrary to the freedom to provide services.

The Premier League has always been known to be protective of its intellectual property rights, particularly in relation to satellite broadcasting. This is therefore a major blow to the Premiership as, effectively, the ECJ has ruled that there is no copyright for the matches, meaning that sporting events do not constitute “works” under EU law.

In essence, the ECJ has made its recommendation, which must now be accepted by the UK courts in relation to Karen Murphy’s case. Only then will it become a precedent. While pubs have paid increasingly large fees to enable them to screen these matches, perhaps this decision that any prohibition over the sale of decoders would be contrary to EU law will see that change.

However, this is not quite the green light for landlords to go out and buy foreign decoders. Although the ruling stated that there is no copyright for the matches, there are still elements in such events that are protected by copyright, such as the anthem, graphics and pre-recorded footage.

The Premier League has faced many regulatory challenges in the past and may yet find a way to get round the new situation.

Added: 8th November 2011

Christopher J Sherliker is a partner for Silverman Sherliker LLP who provide legal solutions across a spectrum of requirements.  Find out more about Silverman Sherliker LLP.

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