Broadcast battle hots up

By James Wilmore

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: High court, Foreign satellite, High court of justice, Manchester united f.c., Karen murphy

Football has witnessed some classic European encounters over the years. Manchester United's penalty shoot-out victory against Chelsea in this year's...

Football has witnessed some classic European encounters over the years. Manchester United's penalty shoot-out victory against Chelsea in this year's Champion League final is just one that springs to mind.

But the fight building up to take place in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) - hopefully next year - could top them all in terms of significance.

Where's the evidence for this? Well arguably it came last month when a representative from European football's governing body, UEFA, stood in front of a High Court judge and said that if the supply and use of foreign decoder cards were found to be legal, the commercial impact on it would be "direct and substantial".

Sky, Irish broadcaster Setanta, French premium pay channel Canal+ and the Motion Picture Association also made representations - and all five were granted permission to have their say when the matter goes to Europe.

One thing's for sure, it's clearly rattled the cages of some people with a serious amount to lose.

However, key to understanding this issue is focusing on the two sides at the core of the battle. On one side we have the suppliers of foreign satellite equipment, which sell them to pubs for a fraction of the cost of Sky.

On the other, we have the Premier League, desperately trying to protect its copyright.

This allows it to sell the broadcasting rights of matches to the highest bidder for lucrative amounts of money - which, of course, has been Sky since the league's inception in 1992. Sky's stranglehold

For some licensees, Sky's stranglehold is too much to take. According to this year's Publican Market Report only 27 per cent now choose to screen sport - a fall of seven per cent in two years - while others are finding alternative means to show live sport. Which is where the suppliers come in.

In this respect, we have a David and Goliath scenario of sorts.

Helping conjure up this image is licensee Karen Murphy. The Portsmouth publican has had her own high-profile High Court battle, appealing a conviction for screening foreign satellite football via Greek channel Nova. And now she is set to have her case heard in conjunction with the suppliers at the ECJ.

So, as this battle rages - and the Premier League continues to clamp down on licensees screening foreign satellite football - we turned to some of the players involved, including the solicitor representing Murphy, to hear their version of events and what the future may hold.

Ultimately, the feeling from pub companies and licensees is they want to have this matter resolved once and for all - to allow a level-playing field on screening live sport.

Let's just hope we have no more extra time… How the foreign satellite saga has unfolded

  • March 2006​: Licensee Brian Gannon wins a Crown Court appeal after previously being found guilty of infringing copyright law. The judge says he is satisfied Gannon did not act "dishonestly". It is regarded as a landmark case by suppliers and those acting for them.
  • July 2006​: Licensee Karen Murphy is found not guilty of dishonesty for showing football through Greek operator Nova.
  • January 2007​: Murphy is convicted at Portsmouth Magistrates Court on two counts of breaching copyright laws. She later launches an appeal.
  • March 2007​: A Crown Court judge rejects Murphy's appeal against her conviction meaning she faces fines and costs totalling £12,000.
  • April 2007​: Murphy lodges an appeal in the High Court against her conviction.
  • November/December 2007​: Murphy's appeal is heard in the High Court. Part of it is dismissed, but the judges agree to hear arguments on European competition law.
  • April 2008​: High Court action by the Premier League against two suppliers kicks off.
  • June 2008​: The case against the suppliers and Murphy's appeal are both referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
  • Summer 2009​: The earliest the cases are expected to be heard in the ECJ.

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