Football: EU court backs pub in ground-breaking TV case

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The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday in favour of a British pub circumventing a football TV monopoly, in a case that threatens to shake up the highly lucrative world of sports broadcasting.

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

The ruling by the Luxembourg-based court threatens a massive change in the sale by owners and marketing by broadcasters of sports programming.

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

The 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 ruling follows a case involving Karen Murphy, who runs The Red White & Blue pub in the Southsea area of Portsmouth on the southern English coast, and the EPL over the broadcasting monopoly on live matches.

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 £800 (930 euros, $1,230) for Nova but would have had to pay £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 £8,000 in fines and costs.

But this year she took her fight to the ECJ, the highest legal body in the 27-country European Union.

Murphy said Tuesday she was "thrilled" by the ruling after what she said was an arduous legal battle.

"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.

She said that although she was unsure of the exact implications of the ruling, she hoped it will bring about more freedom of choice.

"I hope it doesn't go back to the way it was because it's not a fair, free choice of market, it's not a fair choice for the customer," she said.

There was no immediate reaction to the ruling from the EPL or BSkyB.

The court said the Premier League "cannot claim copyright in the Premier League matches themselves, as those sporting events cannot be considered to be an author's own intellectual creation and, therefore, to be 'works' for the purposes of copyright in the European Union".

Analysts say the ruling could mean that the Premier League may no longer be able to sell the broadcasting rights country by country, which could trigger a revolution in European football.

© 2011 AFP

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