Another football decoding case has reached the ECJ.
European football’s governing body UEFA sued Euroview, an importer of decoder cards (from within the EU) which allow pubs in the UK to show matches from foreign television broadcasts.
The previous case on this issue that was referred to the ECJ from the High Court was that of The English Football Association Premier League (FAPL) and QC Leisure and AV Station, we are still waiting for answers from the ECJ for this.
The European Union is of course founded on the principle of free and unfettered cross border trade between member states, however the whole basis of the football (and of course other sports) rights market is of sporting bodies (governing bodies, leagues and in some countries clubs) selling these rights to broadcasters in different countries for varying prices. The basic principle of supply and demand applies and as English football is most popular in the UK, the governing bodies charge a higher fee to broadcasters for the rights. Needless to say this price hike is then passed on to the consumers.
By way of an example in the FAPL case the costs for a pub to broadcast Sky Sports for a year were quoted as being roughly £6000, whereas the equivalent price using a foreign bought decoder was around £800.
UEFA’s claims are that their copyright is infringed where foreign decoding boxes are used to show football in the UK in venues that have no licence to show it. Euroview attempted to rely upon the protection of Section 28A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA), this section gives a broadcaster immunity from copyright infringement where said infringements are temporary and essential to the operation of the system.
Euroview applied for the case to be put on hold until the decision in the FAPL case was given by the ECJ, however Mr Justice Kitchin presiding over the case said that the case should be referred separately to the ECJ. His reasoning was as follows:
– A national court has discretion to refer a matter to the ECJ where it is necessary to resolve a dispute before it;
– Whilst this case is at a preliminary stage it is clear to the court that rulings on these questions will be needed before a judgment can be given;
– The questions were similar but not identical to those raised in the FAPL case;
– Refusal of referral would deny UEFA the opportunity to persuade the ECJ that the importation of foreign decoder cards is unlawful;
– Euroview would suffer no prejudice or injustice from the referral and thus the questions should be referred to the ECJ.
The ruling of the ECJ in both this case and the FAPL case will be very important in shaping both how we watch our football (and other sports) and also the money that trickles down to the clubs. Simply if the ruling is in favour of Euroview then there is no reason for pubs to go direct to Sky etc they will just get the foreign boxes, as a result Sky will not pay as much for the rights to broadcast matches, clubs will get less money and the best players in the world may look elsewhere.