New appeal over showing satellite matches in pubs on saturdays

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.

Don’t Miss: The Anti-Arsenal Conspiracy.  Fact!

7 Replies to “New appeal over showing satellite matches in pubs on saturdays”

  1. The football clubs should be allowed to sell there own season tickets to watch all there games live.Dont think this will affect crowds at all 50 quid a month or something there are Arsenal fans all over the country and Europe who can not get to live games because of travel.this would bring in extra revanue and stop the easy to get straming online of games

  2. If you can buy a product or service within the EU and avail of it in the UK, subject to paying the appropriate taxes in the country from which you bought it, ie VAT or equivilent. I can’t see why this woman cannot do as she intends.
    It will be interesting as SKY may be big fish here in the UK, but less so in the EU as a whole. I know of dozens if not hundreds of private individuals that have done exactly the same thing.
    If she wins, woohoo! This just may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back TV bonanza wise. I wonder when the next round of rights negotiations comes up, sanity will return to the marketplace and the boom will be over.
    Couple that with squad size restrictions and new financial fair play regulations, there will be some very nervous clubs out there.(Especially those who rely too heavily apon the TV £)
    Salary caps will follow and the clubs prudently run will prosper…. bring it on.

  3. I think that it will be very interesting to see how much influence big business has on the European court of social justice which is now presided upon by non-elected political entities.
    Do not be surprised if that woman gets shafted.
    It seems ridiculous to me that in this age of technology that I cannot switch on my TV and watch any match live that I wish to. The flaw lies with the broadcaster and governing bodies, not with the lady in question.
    She is completely in the right. What they are trying to enforce upon her is similar to my buying a pack of cigarettes in France and then being hauled up in court for smoking them in the UK. I paid the relevant duty on them legally within the EU so the case would be thrown out.

  4. Tony – I thought the previous EU ruling was that pubs can show EU channel football. Have I misunderstood your piece?

  5. Marc – my understanding is that basic EU law suggests that everything that is legally sold in one EU country can be imported and used in another EU country unless on a specific list of prohibited products. That list includes for examples, drugs and sexually explicit material which might be legal in one country but not another.

    Indeed if you ever pick up one of those boring leaflets that they have at airports while you are waiting to see if your luggage made it off the plane, you will find the list is set out.

    This list, as I understand it, cannot be added to at whim, it was established at the moment each country signed up to the EU.

    So on the face of it, and I stress as many times before, I am not a lawyer, just a lay reader of the situation, on the face of it, there is no way that the UK can argue this point in terms of it being illegal to buy the card to allow you to receive Greek TV via satellite in the UK. But it is saying that the licensing of copyright product by country, rather than across the EU, is also an established fact, and the pub showing the programme is breaking copyright regulations.

    That is the point that, as I understand it, the EU has not set out a view on, and it is that which I guess will ultimately guide where this goes.

  6. Tony – I thought there was a court case a year or 2 ago where a publican took a case to the EU court who ruled that as long as a subscription is paid within the EU it applies across the EU (my basic interpretation of it anyway). In the village where I live there are several pubs who have started showing Saturday games this season, one pub has been for a couple of years. The strange thing is some of the coverage is Italian Sky.

  7. The Publican had someone in court today to hear about teh evils of Sky/PL alliance viz.

    On the issue of the closed period, which prevents pubs showing games at 3pm on a Saturday, a representative for Media Protection Services said it would damage football “as a whole”.

    However, Martin Howe, representing the suppliers, including QC Leisure, said the current situation had “reduced competition and deprived consumers of choice and culture”.

    He argued the FAPL had attempted to use “artificial barriers” around satellite broadcasts that were “disproportionate.” He concluded that the argument the market should be regulated is “entirely contrary to the aim of the (EU) treaty, which is to create a single market”.

    Marie Demetriou, representing Murphy, who was not present in court, argued the decoder cards were not “illicit” devices, as they had been placed on the market by the broadcasters.

    She said the reason the FAPL were using the barriers was to “maximise revenue”. “This is not justification for serious infringement of free movement,” she said.

    According to SoccerLens, BSkyB paid nearly £300 million more than its nearest rival bidder to buy PL rights, and “this seemingly superfluous spending … in turn hikes up their charges to near unaffordable levels”.

    How would Arsenal Media be affected if the decision goes against the PL here?

    Could Arsenal conceivably make the same amount of £££, if not more (ca.£50 million in 2009/10) by broadcasting all games, home and away, direct to fans worldwide via web subscription?

    Wouldn’t the collapse of PL rights, if this case does indeed become the Bosman ruling of TV, benefit Arsenal Media (50% prop., S Kroenke) hugely?

    It makes me wonder who is bank-rolling Karen Murphy’s case – spending six years in court (the original infraction was in 2004) would be prohibitively expensive for a pub landlady, I would’ve thought, especially fighting all the way to the ECJ.

    Nearly as expensive as a subscription to bloody Sky.

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