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Rights uncertainty following Premier League ruling- 5 Oct 2011 00:00:00

The future of sport broadcasting rights in Europe faces some uncertainty following a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday.

The ECJ ruled that it was illegal under EU law to block consumers from buying cheaper television packages from overseas, despite the exclusive national broadcast deals agreed by organisations such as the Premier League. The court insisted that prohibition of the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards was 'contrary to the freedom to provide services' and denied that such prohibition was justified as a protection of intellectual property rights. 

It also dismissed the argument that blackout times could be kept in place with 'the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums'. Within the UK, Premier League matches are not screened at 3pm on a Saturday, but UK consumers using foreign decoder cards have access to those games. Some overseas broadcasters show all 380 Premier League games live, compared to just 138 shown in the UK.

The ruling centred around the case of Karen Murphy, a pub landlady who used a foreign decoder card to screen matches in her venue at a fraction of the cost of a Sky Sports subscription. The ECJ ruled that certain parts of a broadcast - including graphics and the Premier League anthem - would be subject to copyright laws if broadcast in a pub, a decision that appears to protect the Premier League's rights to block overseas broadcasts in pubs to some extent.

Long-term, the decision raises the possibility of the Premier League - and other leagues - marketing their rights on a pan-European basis.

'We will take our time to digest and understand the full meaning of the judgment and how it might influence the future sale of Premier League audiovisual rights in Europe,' said the Premier League in a statement. 

'We are pleased that the judgment makes it clear that the screening in a pub of football-match broadcasts containing protected works requires the Premier League’s authorisation. Currently only Sky and ESPN are authorised by the Premier League to make such broadcasts. The Premier League will continue to sell its audiovisual rights in a way that best meets the needs of our fans across Europe and the broadcast markets that serve them but is also compatible with European law.'

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