Euro court rules against Premier League in TV dispute

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled against the Premier League in a crucial TV dispute. The ECJ’s decision means that the Premier League can no longer sell top-flight football’s TV packages at different rates in different countries. Instead one pan-European price is likely to be set meaning a possible reduction for subscribers in the UK.

Remarkably the ruling stems from the prosecution, and subsequent appeal, of one landlady. In 2007 Karen Murphy, who runs The Red, White, and Blue pub in Southsea, was convicted of “fraudulent reception of transmissions” at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court for showing Premier League matches.

However, Murphy argued that her conviction should be overturned as she had purchased her subscription through Greek broadcaster Nova - a legitimate European-based supplier. This, she said, was in line with legislation which says the EU should operate as a single free-market.

Media Protection Services Ltd (acting on behalf of the Premier League) disputed this and argued Murphy did not have an agreement with the UK rights holders. At the time that was BSkyB although it is now Sky and ESPN.

But today the ECJ described the current set-up as “contrary to EU law”. In a press release it also said: “The Court of Justice holds that national legislation which prohibits the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services and cannot be justified.”

FSF chair Malcolm Clarke said: “I remember court rulings in the past when clubs, the leagues, and media have predicted disaster for football – the Bosman ruling, end of the maximum wage and so on – but football always survives.

“The Football Supporters’ Federation isn’t about to argue the rights and wrongs of the ruling today which we’ll leave to media analysts but we do hope this leads to a reassessment of priorities by the professional game.

“For too long those who go to live matches have played second fiddle to the whims of TV. The FSF hopes that the Murphy ruling encourages those running the game to think again, and remember that the match-going fan is the life blood of the game.”

The ruling is unlikely to impact on the current TV deal but will come into effect during the next round of negotiations.

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