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Pub landlady's copyright convictions quashed in TV football ruling

27 February 2012

The High Court has quashed copyright convictions imposed on pub landlady Karen Murphy for using a Greek satellite decoder card to show live Premier League games.

Murphy successfully challenged her convictions at the ECJ last autumn, which ruled that national legislation banning the use of overseas decoders amounted to an unlawful restriction on competition (see solicitorsjournal.com, 4 October 2011).

She was prosecuted by Portsmouth magistrates under section 297(1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The conviction was upheld by the Crown Court. She appealed to the High Court, which stayed the proceedings and referred the matter to Europe.

The ECJ held that exclusive territorial licences and contractual obligations that require broadcasters to prevent the use of its satellite decoder cards outside the territory infringed article 10(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The ECJ also ruled that live games themselves were not protected by European copyright rules, but only elements linked to them, such as opening video clips, Premier League graphics and music.

At a High Court hearing last week, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton and Mr Justice Barling said that the Premier League’s sole licensee in the UK and Ireland was BSkyB.

Murphy cancelled her BSkyB subscription, on the grounds of cost, and instead used a much cheaper decoder box and viewing card from NOVA, which was licensed to show matches only in Greece.

Stanley Burnton LJ said that, since Murphy had paid for the NOVA cards, she was not acting dishonestly. He is reported as having not referred to the ECJ’s other ruling, on copyright. A written version of the judgment is not yet available.

Andrew Nixon, associate at Thomas Eggar in London, said the ruling “must not be taken as a carte blanche for publicans to show Premier League matches – far from it, in fact.

“It will be recalled that the European Court of Justice also ruled that ‘additionals’, such as opening video sequences, the Premier League music, certain graphics and pre-recorded highlights did fall within a category protected by copyright.

“That in itself creates a major problem for publicans who wish to take advantage of their entitlement to use foreign decoders, in that they would need the permission of the Premier League to use these copyright protected works.”

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