An interesting ruling…

A pub landlady has won the latest stage of her fight to air Premier League games in Britain, using a foreign TV decoder. Karen Murphy has been fined several times for using a Greek decoder in her Portsmouth pub to bypass controls but she refused to give up and took the case to the European Court of Justice. The ECJ has ruled that national laws which prohibit the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards are contrary to the freedom to provide services in the European Union. The ruling concluded that legislation, which bans the use of foreign decoders, 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 ECJ ruling will now be considered by the High Court in London, which had asked for guidance. It would be a surprise if the British court decided to overrule a European decision. The decision will have a big effect on soccer as the Premier League will need to rethink its exclusive agreements with Sky Sports and ESPN. The knock-on effect of such a decision will be important for F1 fans in Britain as Sky will have no right to stop British viewers getting a foreign decoder card and watching the Grands Prix. One idea that fans seem to like the idea of is to have pictures from abroad but commentary provided free by BBC Radio Five Live. There are still disputes over what a sports body can claim as its own. The ECJ said that elements of each broadcast, such as the opening credits, highlights and graphics are protected by copyright, but said that live action cannot be claimed because it is not the creator of the action. There is a legal dispute still to be had over what happens if a promoter puts their logo onscreen all the time.

41 thoughts on “An interesting ruling…

  1. There would likely to be an issue with the syncing of 5 live and the race feed from the EU but i suppose you could listen via the tinterweb as that would also be delayed as is digital radio but to a lesser extent.

    I pay 60 quid a month for SKY inc HD and broadband. Not cheap is it?

  2. no need for a foreign decoder card for british viewers to watch the ‘missing’ races live , german TV shows the races [ in the ITV style , with adverts ] free to air so all that is needed is a cheap digital system to receive that …available for about the cost of one months SKY subscription

  3. This will be an interesting one as it goes on. This will also affect things like amateur photographers taking photos at events then selling photos (not an identical situation but close enough for someone to use the decision).

  4. This is good news in general but as I understand it, satellite viewers in the UK will be able to watch F1 free-to-air next year via either of two European broadcasters – just requires a second LNB pointed at a different satellite. That’s certainly my intention, with 5Live as the commentary.

  5. Finally a sensible ruling which will unlock the monopoly and allow market forces to determine prices: oh, and the implication for the future of F1 on digital TV is not so good. Pan-European pricing with cross-border advertising is the last thing the broadcasters want. The effect on sport broadcasting should be profound and highly interesting!

  6. Mrs Murphy is making headline news, rightly so, in her trade press. The Publicans Morning Herald has quite a good analysis of the situation and to paraphrase the story, this may well force Sky to significantly reduce their prices.

    Firstly, the BBC coverage (post-Legard) has been immaculate and people are upset at losing that. However, the strongest argument has been the economic one with people not wanting to pay 60 GBP per month to watch half the races. I quote from the Herald:

    “Getting hold of a Greek satellite station’s smart card is easy these days with a multitude of equipment providers offering them for about one 10th the price of the average commercial Sky card”. It’s a no-brainer surely.

    So if you’re getting a card, for a one-off payment of around 50GBP then Sky has to reduce the price to compete.

    Watch this space I guess.

  7. Hi Joe,

    One clarification, there has never been anything banning the use of foreign decoders at home. So watching RTL or whatever and listening to radio 5 is not a problem at home.

    The ruling is all about pubs where in the UK until recently you had to get a special sky card at extortionate rates (thousands per month). This gave you the same program but with the little pint-pot logo in the corner. If trading standards came round and there was no pint symbol you were in for bother.

    So this means that pub _might_ be able to show domestic sky rather than the for pubs channels at normal rates but whether sky will install it is another matter….

    This should mitigate the BBC decision somewhat but will still be a shame to lose the excellent coverage that the BBC are now providing – Eddie Jordan and a shakey start aside…


  8. Is this payback for the rumored chicanery Ole Rupe got up to, messing with Nagra’s decoder card company, which is French? I once read a rumor that a Nagra employee was alleged to have been paid off to break that system, spill the technical beans, so Sky could switch to their subsidiary manufacturer venture, whilst hurting the revenue of the older European broadcasters, and getting some customers for their tech. I never read the court case, but there was one i believe. (Nagra is Swiss, but it’s PayTV ops were a JV with Canal+ and much of that involved Thompson, which is virtually a wing of the French Government.)

    Of course, my own theory is it’s a PR bribe to get Brits saying at least *something* good comes from Europe. Just before we get tapped for a 100BLN or so for the bailout fund. (I’ve no idea how much, really, it’s an open ended thing, a bottomless begging bowl and we got those aplenty for all the wrong reasons anyhow) Incidentally i am far from euro skeptic, unless you take the dictionary definition of skeptic, but i get seriously upset when we simply get outmaneuvered, out – blagged, and shown up as politically inept. If we took electing MEPs seriously. . . making sure candidates speak French or German, would be a obvious start, we’d not get mucked about so much. It’s so obvious. Foot, mouth, or foot shotgun, toe missing.

    One angle, though: what if the PRS revoke pub’s music performance licenses? You have to be licensed to get audited, to pay song writers’ royalties. In theory – and i witnessed this once, but the owner was unnecessarily hard head – the boys in blue come to shut you down. I’d love it if the ECJ took a well placed swing at the PRS. They don’t in the slightest serve the needs of musicians.

    Meanwhile, if they really mean that broadcast licensing can be decided purely on the protection of IP issue, there’s an analogy that if a burglar walks in by the open back door, he’s not done for breaking and entering. The back door in this case is online piracy, which is almost a missing wall. Not a great analogy, because said burglar would be done several other ways, but it is an interesting statement. Since the broadcasters are all going triple (or whichever many ways) “play” they also benefit from internet pirating.

    Very very interesting stuff. Need more hours in the day . .

  9. As Dominic points out, it’s the pubs and sports bars that show the coverage that are implicated here. If you want to watch all the F1 from home next year then get a £100 kit off ebay and spend a Sunday afternoon configuring it.

    I can’t believe anyone would be upset at Sky losing revenue, the football clubs losing revenue and hence the players losing some of their (beyond moronic) wages. The excuses about grass-roots football being affected are equally moronic.

    The real implications though are far and wide, well beyond broadcasting to media and software, markets that have traditionally been segregated by those evil companies called Sony, Apple etc.

  10. Very interesting. If there’s a will there’s a way though. I question whether you’ll even need the decoder over the next couple of years as streams online get better.

    Also, Radio 5 Live really does have excellent commentary. The last few races I’ve been to we’ve tuned in to them on the Kangaroo TV (or Fanvision or whatever it’s called today)

  11. The analog for me is the ‘outsourcing’ culture of big business, which sees nothing wrong in shopping around the worldwide market for the best deal. If these are the rules of the game (and why not?) then surely what is good for business is also good for us consumers. I think the EU has this about right, with services available equally to all across the European economy. This is just the next lap in the race to the bottom of the global economy.

    You think it is OK to source goods/services in the cheapest market to benefit your shareholders at the expense of local markets? Then I think it is OK for me (by ‘me’, I mean ‘the consumer’) to also source goods/services in the cheapest market at the expense of more costly providers if I wish to do so.

    Reciprocity is a marvellous thing in principle and should apply equally in all commerce.

  12. Great news, hopefully a few united outraged F1 fans can pass around enough information to get us all watching the races for very little or nothing, and that the information ends up costing SKY very dear.

    Looking at the Phone Hacking scandal, they should have far far bigger fish to fry very soon.

  13. Colin Grayson
    There is an obvious delay in the BBC tv feed over the feed to the commentary box, since Crofty talks about things almost before we see them on tv, this is listening to R5Live or 5Extra online.

    Another indication is that the timing page of is always between 10 to 15 seconds ahead of the tv. (time left in session during FP or QP)

    So to get German tv what do I need? (Assuming it will still be broadcast on German tv next year.) What station? Will a freesat setup do it with the dish pointed a bit to the south? Or do i need a special decoder or what?

  14. Good on Mrs.Murphy, glad she has the time/resources to make this challenge on behalf of all the down trodden.

    Used to be a privilege to be able to watch TV, now it should be a cultural right.

  15. Well as its legal to do so does anyone on here know how I can make a foreign decoder work for freesat? This would be much cheaper than sky and I dont mind german commentary!

  16. i read that they argued that forbidding the sale, purchase or use of such decoders means the common market is divided into national markets, which is against the law. do you know if this ruling is going to have an impact on the internet? right now, you can’t watch most feeds from outside of the country of the respective tv station. this also divides the common market into national markets, hence, the ruling should also apply in these cases.

  17. The whole point of the exercise is to get the biggest global viewing figures,
    because this attracts sponsors and money.

    Surely one of the ways forward is Formula One internet tv, available to all for free, and then you can have the add ons…

  18. Interesting…
    Slightly OT, but…
    I recently had to work (and stay) in Fleet, Hampshire, for a couple of weeks.
    It was the second of such visits.
    My only link (signal) with the outside world was a pub/restaurant – Heron on the Lake; a mile walk from where I was working and staying.
    One Saturday lunchtime I was there, one hand clutching a pint and naturally, watching qualifying on my lap-top; (BBC).
    Landlady/Manageress spots this and expresses great concern and asks me to shut down the lap-top because they did not have a licence to ‘broadcast’ and she had been informed by the “Law Enforcement Officer” that it was illegal to allow such transmissions.
    When pressed further, she refused to elaborate and insisted she would be fined. (I did try to find out what Law Enforcement Officer she was referring to but no success).
    I ordered another pint, went to the garden/smoking area, lit up a cigar and finished watching the qualifying.
    Then watched the race live in another pub the following day.
    I’d be very interested to know (and understand) the legal position of situations like that.

  19. An interesting ruling indeed. I wonder what implications if will have for broadcasting of sports in a larger perspective in the months to come.

    This really shows how the ideas you brought up about going a totally different route with F1 coverage are relevant.

  20. I am pretty sure that within the EEC all goods must be in “Free Circulation” ie anyone can buy them without restriction by market or market sector.

    I may have this wrong because it goes way back to my time at Pioneer HiFi GB, (nearly 30 years ago) importing special South African version radio tuners for Rolls Royce. (a high prestige but low volume customer at the time, took me 3 years to get that business and when I left they gave it away to Alpine, you had to be a supplier for 3 years then get specific permission to say you were, in your advertising) I tried to say “no they are not, in free circulation, no one else can buy them and they will only work in SA,” but was informed that they MUST be in free circulation or else we could not import them. Similar situations occurred with tuners for the Middle east, USA and Europe. (at the time they all had different IF frequencies and oscillator high/low FM requirements, SA had odd frequency stepping increments and the USA needed different band coverage, the Japanese also needed to hear tv sound in their cars, things were a lot more complicated back then, I was supplying Rolls with five different versions of the same head unit for their different export markets. Someone is reading this and thinking wow he is really old!

  21. tux1952
    Had you allowed anyone else to watch your laptop in the pub or other communal building or place as well, then you would have broadcast to them and needed a PRS licence, in a public place, ie the bar then I the landlady has a point, but in your room it’s private as long as only you watch it.

    PRS used to visit us every year at the motor show to try and catch us out broadcasting to the public, but we had an agreement that individual demo did not break the rules, nonetheless we had to use headphones in many areas to avoid the “public” hearing.

  22. This is one of those things that looks exciting on paper but ultimately something comes along to p*** on the fire and extinguish any excitement.

    As an ex-pat (as any sensible Brit has to be these days), I’ve found where I fit in but only really struggle with the utter crap on offer in the way of TV.

    I would happily pay (handsomely) for UK TV and sports commentary but all this rights business makes things collosally complicated and all but intolerable.

    BBC coverage of F1 with Martin Brundle is simply unsurpassed, as is MotoGP commentary from Toby Moody and Julian Ryder.

    If they freed up rights options in all sports and TV, they’d quickly find out that quality and impartiality are all-important and that people may be prepared to pay that little bit extra to enjoy sporting events ‘as nature intended’. And we wouldn’t necessarily be dumbed down by unsatisfying, poor quality, commercially-orientated coverage.

    But money still talks, so I’ll shut up now.

  23. tux1952,

    ouch, ouch and ouch again.

    First up, a victualler can make any rules they like. You’re there by leave. That’s about as old as it gets. (funny how electric pubs are blogs and have the same rules! . . )

    But what you really have is someone who 1. is intimidated by complicated sounding laws, and 2. is abusing them by dint of ability to bully you. Like in a random punch up “he hit me, so i’m gonna hit you”. Very low.

    Assuming your connection was available to you and you only, there are no broadcast issues. If you invited others to watch, however, it could be considered a performance. Sounds instead like some FUD spread by a desperate Sky salesman. I’ve not met a landlady who genned up on these aspects before. Don’t start blaming the company here, low living salesmen work for anyone, regurgitate the best of the rubbish. Intimidation really is a common sales technique, and you may have been clouted by a sequence of ignoramuses, Stooges style.

    You were on safe ground, but your publican did not think she was, and she can turf you out, without giving reason.

    One of those 3M privacy screens might be the trick, next time. (and an earpiece) Just they wreck the pitiful screens attached to almost any laptop now. Secret of iPads? They flummox the public with this thing called a (10yr old tech, BTW) decent screen, which none of them had been sold before . . you know that vast pile of cash they have (more than the european banks have), they are using that to stop others getting supplies.

    Pubs are obviously not pubs any more. As in public houses. I want a legal decision for them all to change their name! When i first ventured into one, there was a public side, and a private side. I’m just making the law really messy now 🙂

    I miss finding a hidey hole like that. If there are nice ones out there, bet they’d introduce you to the local F1 fans . . i am griping now . .

  24. err, think i just said what rpaco said. sorry rpaco. I was just getting fussed about a memory of pubs being a nice place to go. – j

  25. Cheers Guys!!

    Thanks for the info.
    I didn’t have any problem with the landlady, who, clearly, had been intimidated by whomever and was ‘just doing her job’ as she saw fit.
    Shame though, such a nice venue.
    I presume if I contacted the PRS, they would be able to tell me the legal position etc?

  26. This will just mean that Sky bump up the prices of the channels that are provided to home users so that Sky make up the revenue from the lost licence trade money, I fail to see how this is a good idea.

    Sky are not going to turn round and say at a board meeting “we are losing millions each week from the licence trade never mind” they will simply put an extra fiver a month on the cost of the channels to the domestic market and put up the wholesale prices they charge to Virgin and BT to make up the shortfall, this is great for the licence trade but bad for millions of home subscribers.

  27. When did ANY of us last watch an F1 race in a pub ? I honestly cannot think of anywhere that I have seen a pub advertising an F1 race shown live or recorded for that matter. It’s all football in the UK.

  28. John Other
    Ok but what about the “Free circulation” thingy, is it still a requisite within the EEC and if so does it apply to broadcasts? So can I claim that I must be allowed to watch German tv ? Also then Sky must be breaking the rule by restricting the service.

    Or maybe it was an EFTA rule, does EFTA still exist?

  29. For some reason this story reminds me of the episode of Ballykissangel where almost everyone got hooked on a Spanish language TeleNovela they were watching using a big satellite dish. IIRC that was in Asumpta Fitzgerald’s pub.

  30. Hi, rpaco,

    the free circulation thing has me scratching my head. What i imagine is that one of the points of legal protection of copyright, was it was about getting people happy to circulate their ideas. Recognition, so that if someone else can make a living out of it, the originator gets his or her due. (Certainly that is the core argument against estoppel, our courts preferring equitable interest in the outcome to be shared)

    But, stone me, i have never heard that exact phrase before. I have missed something which sounds very useful, (or forgotten the elementary) because all the legal fights i have been in were about stopping someone circulating, when they meant to profit at my exclusive expense.

    As far as i know, watching any FTA broadcast is just fine, if you can receive it. German and French channels are recently on the freesat thing. And on the web, also. Satellite fiddlers have been into this a while. Far as i know, none went to jail.

    But it was one of the tenets of joining the EU that discriminatory pricing would not be allowed. Nor differential pricing. Seem to recall this was Treaty stuff. We agreed to that, even if we didn’t go for the currency. We’ve still (i wonder why) not got the free cross border money transfers for personal cash that were enacted in law in ’99, statute. (Nor has anyone, maybe the Danes tried it, my bet would be on them to play straight)

    There were some quite good ideas behind the EU integration plan. Which nobody paid heed to. Not even lip service. Once the sale was made, they all ran off with the downpayment. Maybe the way to save the eurozone, is to actually make something of these ideals/promises/just sorting out a mess long known. Most things i read had a very positive benefit as their core idea.

    Off to swot up on the aspect you asked about. I am simply not sure at all. But very interested if we can save ourselves by, you know, being true to the word.


    – j

  31. tux1952,

    just try contacting the PRS, if you were the manager of a very big name!

    i am not sure they know what they are on about. But that’s the thing: smokescreens and threats. Pretty dismal, really. – j

  32. rpaco

    you have been able to watch satellite programmes from wherever you like for many years ; buying a card to watch encrypted programmes was different

    german digital satellite TV is broadcast from astra 19.2 [ previously known as astra 1 ]

    whereas the satellite receivers used in the uk are specifically designed to receive the english language programmes , there are plenty of generic free to air receivers on the market which will receive alle p throgrammes from around europe [ you don’t get such things as red button and EPG though ]

    although it is possible to get an adaptor to fit a second lnb on your existing dish , because the angle between astra 19.2 and astra 2 is a bit wide you would probably need something bigger than the existing sky mini dish ; try googling for where you are ;I just bought a complete kit complete with dish for about £60

    where to get ? aldi and lidl sell the kits from time to time , maplins always seem to have them [ and have reduced their prices to compete with the german shops ], and , of course , satellite dealers are another source

    sorry to hijack your blog joe , but there seems to be increasing interest in this to avoid the murdoch rip off ; incidentally , I gather you don’t have Freesat from the uk , often F1 bits other than on the race weekend ; I have a box with built in hard drive , set it to record all the BBC race transmissions on saturday and sunday , lots of interviews etc

  33. That’s just how I watch IndyCar: a stream with the sound off and commentary from the IMS radio network. So why not for F1, too?

  34. The BBC Trust are going to deny F1 viewers the chance to comment on the forthcoming consultation regarding the budget cuts, however all other topics are open for comment.

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