By Tony Attwood
As it is saturday, consider this point: should you be able to nip into a pub and watch any EPL game you want?
If you are in England or Wales the answer is no. Showing games originating through satellites owned via other EU countries is illegal – although down at the Toppled Bollard, the Pig and Bucket, and the Duchess of Rutland’s Bicycle Pump, it is as commonplace as a 26 passing move from Arsenal.
But step forward a Portsmouth landlady who is heading up a court case to try and get the law overturned. The hearing is on 5th October.
Karen Murphy is the lady in question, and she was convicted of “fraudulent reception of transmissions” at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court in January 2007 for showing Premier League matches at the old Red White and Blue (a drinking hostelry).
The argument against this judgement is simple. It is utterly contrary to EU regulations. The good publican bought a TV subscription from Jimmy the Greek, (well no actually, from the broadcaster itself in Greece). Since that company is a regular EU company, it is legal. If it is legal in the EU she should be able to do it.
The EPL says she also needs an agreement in place with the rights holders for the UK. She cites, “Quasi sum dictorum infiliantae regalus” which roughly translates as “bollocks”
I did a piece on this story when the first case came up and took a guess that that ruling would not be the end of it, simply because the money involved is too big. The current TV deal running from 2010-13, clocks in at £1.782bn – and that is not the sort of dosh to shrug your shoulders at if you lose a case.
Pubs pay Sky around £15k each a year to show the games, while a subscription to a Greek service is about 5% of this. If the EPL lose the case the whole current model of financing of football collapses.
The UK government is of course on Sky’s side and when the first case hit, made this statement,
“The legality of screening live UK football games [in a pub] carried on a channel depends on how the copyright to those games was sold/distributed”
That suggests it is legal to subscribe to the EU channels (which of course under EU law it is) but you must not watch something which a UK firm has bought the rights to. But of course 3pm saturday games are not sold because to do that would be to contravene FIFA rules. So there is no infringement of EPL rules since the EPL does sell this service.
This won’t end this month since the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has to make a ruling yet, but if Karen Murphy wins, this will change the way the league sells its rights. It will mean that the ruling which prohibits the showing of live games on the natural playing day of the country (saturday or sunday) is untenable and we can all go and buy a card from a Greek broadcaster to get our choice of Saturday games.
That in turn would make some of us less willing to fork out money on Sky for Sunday games. It might also hit crowds, although I am not too sure about that. I would still keep my season ticket at the Ems for our games – it is just I would be able to watch Arsenal away – which I probably wouldn’t go to anyway.
The EPL could retaliate by selling every game, and having no EPL on a saturday afternoon – which could do quite a bit of good to lower league clubs especially for people like me who just occasionally drop in and see the local club (Corby Town, doing very well thank you).
But that looks very messy. This one will run and run.
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