Football: EU top court issues ground-breaking TV ruling

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The European Court of Justice handed down a ground-breaking ruling Tuesday that threatens to shake up sports broadcasting after finding in favour of a British pub circumventing a football TV monopoly.

In a long-awaited judgement, referred by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, the court ruled in favour of a British pub landlady, fined for televising Premier League football using a foreign satellite TV provider.

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

"National legislation which prohibits the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services," the court said in a judgement.

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.

It 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 English Premier League (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 with British satellite broadcaster BSkyB and signed up with the Greek service Nova instead.

The EPL, which has sold the rights to show live matches to BSkyB and is by far the richest football league in the world, took her to court in England and she had to pay almost £8,000 in fines and costs.

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

Britain's Football Association Premier League (FAPL) "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," the court said.

Analysts say a victory for the landlady could trigger a "revolution" in European football, meaning that the Premier League may no longer be able to sell the broadcasting rights country by country.

The last Premier League three-year television deal, which runs out next season, brought in £3.5 billion, of which £1.4 billion was paid by foreign broadcasters.

The ECJ also said in its ruling that "a system of exclusive licences is also contrary to European Union competition law if the licence agreements prohibit the supply of decoder cards to television viewers who wish to watch the broadcasts outside the Member States for which the licence is granted."

© 2011 AFP

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