EU court takes on the Premier League

By Ian Dunt

The European Union's highest court has issued a tough judgement on the Premier League, opening the door to football fans buying cheap foreign TV packages.

The European court of justice ruled that customers should be able to buy cut-price European TV packages showing Premier League matches via set top box decoder cards.

The judgement follows a case brought by Karen Murphy, a Portsmouth pub landlady, although it did not provide her with a complete win.

Her battle to use a Greek decoder card to show Premier League matches in her pub was rejected, as the court considered it a "communication to the public" which was in breach of copyright law.

Emma McClarkin, Conservative sports spokesman in the European parliament, warned the judgement could hurt local teams and eventually impaact on national teams.

"This is not as simple as a David vs. Goliath battle. There's a reason why these are called territorial rights," she said.

"This ruling will have a significant impact on the funding of grassroots sports. Money from television rights is funnelled back into developing the stars of the future, and I fear that this ruling will have detrimental effects on our national teams."

Even without the public aspect, the ruling could still have significant implications for the way BSkyB and other broadcasters buy the rights for sports events and even movies.

The European ruling will be treated as a major victory by competition campaigners, who have long complained that BSkyB has a stranglehold on football viewing through £1 billion broadcast rights.

The prohibition on the "import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services and cannot be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums", the court found.