SBD/October 4, 2011/Media

UK Consumers Will Be Allowed To Bypass Local EPL Broadcasts Under Court Ruling

Court ruling is a blow to UK EPL broadcasters Sky and ESPN
British pubs and households "will be allowed to bypass domestic broadcasters of live Premier League football and cherry-pick cheaper foreign subscriptions under a landmark ruling made by the European courts today," according to Ashling O'Connor of the LONDON TIMES. The judgment means that the EPL "cannot continue to give its broadcasters exclusivity and permits pubs to continue screening live Saturday afternoon football using foreign satellite decoders." The ruling by the European Court of Justice "could force the Premier League into making a major change to how they sell their television rights in Britain and Europe and will dramatically change the broadcasting business for football and the creative industries." The ECJ said that soccer matches "did not constitute creative copyright and therefore could not be protected within individual territories." The ruling "is on the surface a victory for consumers, who will be allowed to choose a pay-TV service from across the European Economic Area, bypassing Sky’s exclusivity." It is a "blow for Sky and ESPN, who pay £600 million a year for the rights to show Premier League matches under a three-year deal that expires at the end of the 2012/13 season." It "could ultimately lead to less choice and higher prices if the Premier League decided to sell its rights on a pan-European basis to a single broadcaster at the next auction." Alternatively, the EPL "could choose not to screen matches in countries such as Greece and Albania in ordered to protect its core market in the UK" (THETIMES.co.uk, 10/4). The ECJ ruled in favor of pub owner Karen Murphy, who originally was ordered to pay almost US$12,379 in fees and costs after she was taken to court by the League for using a Greek decoder in her Portsmouth pub to screen matches, avoiding the League's own controls over where its matches are screened" (PA, 10/4).

NOT A COMPLETE LOSS FOR EPL: The ECJ said that “transmission in a pub of protected ‘works’ -- such as logos, pre-recorded films of previous match highlights and graphics -- required the permission of the author of those works.” The ECJ added that the EPL “holds no copyright under European law over the football matches themselves.” However, it said sporting events "have a unique and ... original character” and the EU recognised the “specific nature of sport.” The ECJ concluded that “member states could protect the intellectual property of sporting events through national legislation” (FT.com, 10/4). In Manchester, Owen Gibson notes EPL officials “are convinced that they can mitigate the damage.” Even if it “ultimately means they have to sell fewer matches on a pan-European basis to more than one broadcaster, they are confident they will be able to largely maintain the value of the rights deals that have underpinned the explosion in players wages over recent years” (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 10/4).
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English Premier League, Media, Soccer

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