Club Law and Management
by Philip Smith, Secretary of the A.C.C.
Following on from the High Court announcement on the Karen Murphy ECJ case, thousands of club stewards and pub landlords throughout the UK are braced for stiff fines or possibly even jail as the Premier League begin a campaign of prosecutions against venues that illegally broadcast Premier League football matches. The ECJ stated that it was not unlawful for private individuals to obtain services, such as sports coverage, from abroad. However, as a repercussion of that ruling it has emerged that for copyright reasons it will not be possible for commercial premises to show Premier League football games transmitted by foreign broadcasters. Whilst Karen Murphy was successful in her original case (that UK individuals should be able to purchase goods and services from abroad), it has not translated into the opening up of foreign satellite services as the Premier League are now pursuing commercial establishments on the separate grounds relating to copyright infringement.
This latest twist to the Murphy case has been established following a court judgment earlier this month in which the Premier League won a copyright ruling against two foreign satellite suppliers and six British pubs that used non-UK decoder cards to show games. In a High Court ruling in February, Judge David Kitchin found that the pubs infringed Premier League copyright by showing customers the Premier League’s copyright works including logos, graphics and anthems without the Premier League’s consent. Speaking after the case the Premier League said “Following the news that Karen Murphy’s appeal to the High Court has seen her conviction overturned the Premier League would like to make clear that this decision does not change the outcome of the QC Leisure foreign satellite case.
“In that judgment (QC Leisure), made on 3 February 2012, Lord Justice Kitchin was consistent with the ECJ ruling and made it clear that the law gives us the right to prevent the unauthorised use of our copyrights in pubs and clubs when they are communicated to the public without our authority.
“That unauthorised use gives rise to both civil and criminal penalties. Therefore should Mrs Murphy, or any other publican, use European Economic Area foreign satellite systems to show Premier League football on their premises without our authority and outside the scope of our authorisation, they make themselves liable for us to take action against them in both the civil and criminal courts.”
This was supported by Sky who said “The UK courts have already ruled that the unauthorised use of the Premier League’s copyrighted material via foreign satellite systems in pubs is illegal. This remains the case following the ruling on Karen Murphy. We will continue to protect our legitimate customers by supporting action against licensees who break the law. At the same time, we will continue to work with the licensed trade to help even more pubs and clubs enjoy the business benefits of live sport.”
As a warning of what is to come and how seriously the courts treat copyright offences, an Essex landlord was last month ordered to pay more than £19,000 in fines and costs after being convicted of showing Premier League and international matches via Sky Sports without a legitimate viewing agreement. Frederick Young, licensee of the Rose Inn in Shenfield, was convicted on 6 February at Basildon Magistrates’ Court and fined £2,500 for each of six offences of dishonest reception of a television transmission. Young, prosecuted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, was also told to pay £4,522 in costs.
In a further development, one of Britain’s main distributors of foreign boxes and cards, Euroview, has ceased trading.
In a notice posted on its website last month, it said the latest High Court judgment found the Premier League was “entitled to copyright protection of certain artistic works and graphics that formed part of the relevant broadcasts of football matches in these proceedings”.
It warned: “There is now the prospect that companies providing a service that allows the ‘communication to the public’ of any such artistic works could cause their customers to be liable for copyright infringement.” The company told customers that their accounts with it would cease on 10 February.
Since the original ECJ ruling, the Premier League’s content has been developed to include more logos and symbols that uphold its ownership of the material, meaning venues cannot flout the rule by turning the television on and off at key times.
The Premier League and Sky believe the ruling on QC Leisure is significant. The thousands of landlords under investigation would include those suspected of infringing Premier League copyright by using foreign feeds to show games as well as pubs that screened Sky’s matches bought with a domestic subscription and not featuring the “pint glass” on-screen symbol showing the subscription had been purchased for commercial use.
Karen Murphy’s lawyer, Paul Dixon, has also warned licensees against installing such systems. He told The Publican’s Morning Advertiser “Anybody in Karen’s position needs to consider what they are doing, they need to take proper advice, and then to act accordingly. There are still some issues as we know as regards showing foreign broadcasts of Premier League matches in pubs, some copyright issues that came out of the case a couple of weeks ago, so people need to be guided carefully and seek proper advice.
“My message to pubs at the moment would be to look very carefully at the judgment from Lord Justice Kitchin a couple of weeks ago, take proper advice on it, take it on board, and then consider how best to proceed after that. That will be the same message for everybody who is involved (including suppliers).”
The Premier League and Sky have also begun a campaign of warning adverts. This is likely to trigger fresh activity in the courts as officials from organisations working for and on behalf of the Premier League step up visits to venues suspected of showing matches unlawfully.
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