Soccer TV rights in 'satellite battle'

Every month or two some hapless British pub landlord gets hit with a fine for showing soccer matches without having paid BSkyB’s special fee covering licensed premises. Many landlords have cheekily started showing foreign signals of English Premiership matches (which they argue need only a normal French, German or other subscription). A high-profile test case is currently meandering through the legal system ahead of a hearing some time in the future before the European Court.

Last week a London High Court heard applications from Setanta, Canal Plus, BSkyB and the anti-piracy division of the Motion Pictures Association, along with European soccer governing body UEFA, arguing that their voices should also be heard in a case involving the English Premier League and QC Leisure.

A Portsmouth licensee, Karen Murphy, is at the core of a case where she and others are appealing a decision made against them back on Dec 17 last year for allegedly accessing QC Leisure’s so-called “World Feed” and where QC claims to hold rights to foreign broadcasters games, according to the High Court summary.

However, “foreign broadcasters are required by the terms of their licence agreement with the Claimant to undertake to procure that no device is knowingly authorised or enabled by or with their authority or that of their sub-licensees, distributors, agents employees etc so as to permit anyone to view in an intelligible form any such transmission outside their particular licensed territory.” Hence the case, and the appeal.

British licensed trade daily newspaper The Publican quotes Mark Brealey QC, speaking on behalf of UEFA, warning that if excluded from the test case, expected to be heard next summer, the body could launch a separate case to challenge the final verdict.

Brealey said: “The Premier League is interested in the Premier League. It can present a similar solution but it has no interest in the Champions’ League. If refused this intervention UEFA could bring a similar claim of its own. All that UEFA is doing [by launching the intervention] is bypassing the need to bring a separate claim raising similar issues, wasting the court’s time and burdening the defendants.”

He added that if the intervention is rejected and the European Court of Justice finds in favour of the use of decoding cards the effect on UEFA’s commercial interests would be “direct and substantial”.

James Flynn QC, arguing BSkyB’s corner, said: “It is evident that Sky will be affected by the interpretation to be given at the Court of Justice. We are the most directly affected as decoding cards are supplied as a way to avoid paying subscriptions to Sky.” Setanta’s submission focused on the need to retain exclusivity for broadcasters like itself, which have recently broken into the market.