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Pub 1, Sky 0: court rules landlady can show live football from foreign decoder


A pub landlady has won a legal battle to overturn her conviction for using foreign decoders to show Premier League football matches for customers.

Karen Murphy said she planned to show more games at the Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth after the ruling, which threatens to undermine the current exclusive agreements between the Premier League and BSkyB and ESPN for broadcasting matches.

But BSkyB said it would continue to pursue publicans which show football matches to fans on the cheap using foreign decoders.

The High Court yesterday ruled that Ms Murphy's appeal over using a cheaper Greek decoder in her pub to bypass controls over match screening must be allowed. Instead of using Sky Sports, which has the rights to screen the Premier League in the UK, Ms Murphy used the Greek station Nova's coverage in her pub, which was cheaper than the equivalent Sky package. She paid £800 a year for a Greek decoder, saying she "couldn't afford" Sky's charge of £700 a month.

Ms Murphy took her fight to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after being ordered to pay almost £8,000 in fines and costs. The ECJ partly ruled in her favour, finding that national laws that prohibit the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards are contrary to the freedom to provide services.

The ruling was enough for all sides to concede at the High Court that Ms Murphy's conviction could not stand.

Yet many issues over screening games remain. Although the ECJ found that live matches were not protected by copyright, the Premier League maintained copyright over the branding seen on-screen, including graphics, music and film sequences.

To screen any of these elements, a pub would need the permission of the Premier League, which is expected to increase its branding across foreign broadcasts as a result.

Lawyers are still examining the ruling but it could ultimately force the Premier League to set up its own television channel or sell its rights on a country-by-country basis in the EU.

Ms Murphy, 47, who handed over her decoder, may now acquire a new device. "I was morally and legally right," she said outside the court. "It's great news for pubs. I hope it changes the face of football. This was big corporations thinking they are above the law."

Asked if she would screen more games, Ms Murphy said: "Watch this space - if I can, I will."