By Tony Attwood
The highest court in the European Union has ruled that it is legal for individuals within the EU to buy set-top box decoder cards from other EU broadcasters and watch whatever they have to offer. The ruling cannot be appealed.
That means that in the UK, for example, we don’t suffer the duopoly of Sky and the Mickey Mouse channel any more. Although it will take months for the issue to get into English law, there is no chance of any prosecutions being followed up, for by the time they got to court the law would have changed.
It also means that we can go and buy decoders from any country we like, and if that country is showing live saturday afternoon games, we can watch those – just as I found I could do recently in Cyprus.
In a curious twist the ruling says that you can’t show such games in a pub without permission of the EPL, which basically means we all stop buying from Sky and go and buy from the cheapest. Or continue to watch on dodgy free internet channels. As you wish.
Selling TV rights country by country however has been deemed contrary to the fundamentals of the EU, which aims to create one market.
The EPL currently makes over £1.5bn from a three year arrangement with Sky, plus money from EPSN and the BBC along with another £1bn for rights outside the UK.
The whole case is a huge own goal for the EPL which actually started the case by trying to stop a single pub in Portsmouth from using Greek cards to show saturday afternoon matches. They will claim they have won that case – but as a result the rest of us can go and buy any decoder card we want and set our satellite dish to point at any part of the sky in direct line.
So that horror of TV regulation – the refusal to sell 3pm Saturday games – at last is over, and we will all be able to watch. Given that many of us turn the sound off anyway because the commentaries have become so biased, the fact that it is all in Greek is neither here nor there. Uefa are going to be in a mess too, since they sell rights on a country by country basis. In fact Uefa potentially stands to lose a huge chunk of its income and this could be the final twist that leads to the breakaway European league run by clubs.
In one hilarious twist we have found that things like the jingles they have at the start of programmes (the broadcasters laughingly call them anthems but they are just mindless jingles) are copyright, so overseas broadcasters will have to cut them out or pay a minimal fine. If they cut them most of us will again be thrilled.
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It is being suggested that the copyright owners like Sky will start playing copyright music when a goal is scored, and I am sure there are some people who will think that is so good they will love that. But writing software that override such a sound, or indeed taking out the sound from Sky totally is so simple I can’t see this having any effect. The same is true with special graphics. I mean, people can break into the government’s own web sites – they are not going to be stuck at striking out graphics. Besides the fines would be tiny – copyright breach fines relate to the value of the item being nicked, not an absolute value.
So overall, the EPL has just kicked itself in the teeth – no mean feat (or feet). And en route they’ve done in all trans-Euro selling of films, shows, and all sports.
The only way out for the EPL I can see is to give the licence to Sky for the whole of Europe and charge a load more than now – but that doesn’t take into account the growth of internet availability of games. There gets to a point where it simply is all too expensive. And given that we will all from today be able to get decoders from all over Europe, are they really going to turn us all off in 18 months when the new deal is signed?
The word in the up market press is, nothing much will change. But the ability to watch the games you want at 3pm on a saturday, plus all through the week, is something else. I think in the next 18 months football will change.
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