Pub landlady hits winner in football case

Steve Dinneen
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A PUB landlady from Portsmouth yesterday won her legal bid to screen cheap foreign coverage of football matches, in a giant-killing feat to rival Wimbledon’s 1988 FA Cup final win over Liverpool.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Karen Murphy should be allowed to use a Greek decoder to screen football matches.

Murphy was fined after being caught using the decoder, which she said was to avoid paying BSkyB’s “sky high” prices.

BSkyB slipped almost three per cent yesterday, with some analysts placing the potential loss of commercial revenue at £70m a year.

Murphy’s win was not absolute though, with the court ruling that it would be a breach of copyright to broadcast Premier League material such as its theme tune and logo. This gives the Premier League a new line of defence, guaranteeing the legal argument will continue.

The ruling could have far-reaching consequences for the Premier League and other rights holders, including film and TV production companies who sell their rights abroad.

The Premier League, which initially took action against Murphy, could now be forced to sell pan-European rights to its matches to a single broadcast partner.

Sky, the biggest customer for the Premier League’s football rights, would be the clear frontrunner. In theory it could then wholesale rights – in much the same way it does with Sky Sports in the UK to BT and Virgin – to broadcasters in areas where it does not have a presence.

Some analysts have speculated the Premier League could start its own TV channel, although its close relationship with Sky makes this unlikely.

The ECJ ruling, which was expected after the advocate general recommended it earlier this year, could yet be ignored by the High Court in the UK, although this is extremely unlikely.

The ruling shows the power of the European Court of Justice to influence high-profile cases in its member states.

Michel Platini’s governing body will also be affected by the ruling. It may have to reassess the way it sells Champions League rights to individual EU member countries.

Analysts say BSkyB, run by Jeremy Darroch, could lose £70m a year in commercial revenues in the wake of the ruling. It may now bid for pan-European rights.

Karen Murphy
The vindicated pub landlady is now free to screen Premier League games through her Greek encoder, saving her more than £7,000 a year.

Other rights holders
Other sporting bodies and even film and TV production companies could see the way they sell rights affected by the ECJ ruling, meaning they could also lose out.

Premier League
Richard Scudamore’s organisation, and therefore top flight clubs, could find their games worth far less in light of the ruling.