ECJ rules that football fans may freely watch overseas broadcas

Daniela Bartolo | Published on 08 Nov 2011

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Football fans can now watch matches transmitted from overseas by using foreign decoder cards after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that preventing consumers from doing so restricts the freedom to provide services as a fundamental principle under EU law.

The ECJ’s preliminary ruling was passed following questions referred by the British Courts, in a case filed under the Copyright Act by the Football Association Premier League against Karen Murphy, the owner of a pub in the UK, for showing live football matches in her pub through an imported Greek television decoder box and card.

In the UK, the Football Association Premier League markets television broadcasting rights for Premier League matches. The successful bidder is granted exclusive live broadcasting rights for Premier League matches on a territorial basis but is bound by the licence agreement to not supply decoder cards to persons wishing to watch broadcasts outside the Member State for which the licence is granted.

In this particular case, Murphy bought a Greek decoder which allowed her to access Greek coverage of the Premier League. Pubs in the UK have started buying cards and decoder boxes from Greece for prices lower than those of Sky, the holder of the broadcasting rights in the United Kingdom.

In its ruling on the 4th October, 2011, the ECJ held that national laws prohibiting the use of decoders were contrary to EU law and that live football could not be considered to be “works” protected by copyright. However, the ECJ held that many other elements of the broadcast are covered by copyright, including highlights, music and graphics. Thus the English Premier League Association may still stop pubs using overseas coverage through the use of title sequences and various graphics, inter alia.

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