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ThE MaStEr

Euro court to hear landmark TV rights case

Monday, October 4 2010,

SkyBroadcastingThe European Court of Justice will tomorrow hear an appeal case brought by a British pub landlord that could drastically change how TV sports rights are sold across Europe.

In 2005, Karen Murphy signed up to receive the Sky Sports packages in her Portsmouth pub, The Red White and Blue, but soon found the subscription fee too high to sustain - some pubs pay more than £1,000 a month for the service.

After searching for a cheaper way to offer Premier League football in her pub, Murphy secured an imported satellite card from Greek broadcaster NOVA that cost around a tenth of the fee she was paying Sky.

However, using imported cards represents a breach of UK copyright law as Murphy was circumventing authorised broadcaster Sky to watch live sport, reports the Radio 5 Live Investigates programme.

Murphy was taken to court by enforcers working on behalf of Football Association Premier League Limited (FAPL) - a private firm representing the interests of all 20 English Premier League clubs - and ordered to pay nearly £8,000 in fines and costs.

Five years later, Murphy has now brought her appeal to the European Court of Justice as she tries to fight the "unjust" actions of Sky and the FAPL.

"I think its greedy private company trying to dictate to the small people what they can and cannot do, purely for profit. The law needs changing. If I don't fight who is going to fight?" she said.

"If I wanted to go and buy a car, I could go to any garage I like. Me, as a publican, if I want to show football, I can only go to the Sky garage, and have to pay ten times the price of anybody else [in Europe]. I don't believe that's fair."

Murphy's case rests on her freedom to trade, as she argues that restricting her choice of satellite TV provider to just Sky contravenes the principles of free movement of goods and services between countries in the EU.

Should she win the case, the value of Premier League broadcasting rights could be reduced as the market is thrown open to multiple broadcasters.

The Premier League has pledged to fight to protect its interests in broadcasting rights, while also claiming that the case is about maintaining quality levels.

"Without this protection it is the consumer, or fans as we prefer, that ultimately suffer as the investment in quality content will inevitably be diminished. It is also unfair on those licensees that respect the law," said the league.

A Sky spokesperson added: "This is primarily a case about how rights are licensed to broadcasters across Europe. While Sky is not a party to this case, we welcome the Premier League's determination to seek a definitive ruling on this issue."

The FAPL has successfully shut down around 80,000 unauthorised internet streams of football matches over the past two years.

However, it has not always been so successful with its copyright cases, such as a failed legal action against YouTube in the US earlier in the year.

Frank Dunne, acting editor of TVSportsMarkets.com, said that Murphy's case has the potential to become the "Bosman of broadcasting", referring to the ECJ's landmark Bosman ruling in 1995 that opened up the football transfer market.

"The doomsday scenario for rights-holders [such as the Premier League] is that their ability to sell their content on an exclusive basis by individual European territory, charging different rights fees according to the size of the individual market, will be undermined," said Dunne.

"Nobody seems really sure how rights sales would work if that system were ruled to be in breach of European law on the free movement of goods and services.

"The Premier League is confident that it is going into the case with strong arguments. But it was also confident of its arguments when doing battle with YouTube in the New York courts, and it lost that one."

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