Pub landlady Karen Murphy wins High Court case

 

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

It was conceded in the High Court today that Karen Murphy's appeal over using a cheaper Greek decoder in her Portsmouth pub to bypass controls over match screening must be allowed.

The concession follows a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that found partly in her favour on various issues of law.

But a judge made clear that many other complex issues regarding the wider legality of screening matches would have to be decided "at a later date".

Instead of using Sky, 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.

She took her fight for the right to use the cheaper provider to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which ruled in October 2011 that having an exclusive system was "contrary to EU law".

But the Premier League claimed a partial victory, after the ECJ said it maintained the copyright for some sections of the broadcast.

Mrs Murphy, who ran The Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, Hampshire, said she believed she had won "90%" of the battle.

The ruling was enough for all sides to concede today at London's High Court that Ms Murphy's conviction could not stand, - though many issues over screening games remain outstanding.

Mrs Murphy took her fight to the ECJ after being ordered to pay almost £8,000 in fines and costs.

The case is being seen as of importance to the way soccer TV rights are sold in the future and could have a crucial impact on the game as a whole.

Mrs Murphy, 47, said after the hearing that she was "over the moon".

"Brilliant, that's how I feel," she told reporters outside court. "Fantastic."

She added: "I was morally and legally right."

Asked whether she would show more games, she replied: "Watch this space - if I can, I will."

Mrs Murphy said her victory was "fantastic news".

"It's great news for pubs," she said. "I hope it changes the face of football."

She said the stakes had been high and added: "It could have been my house, my pub, everything."

But she said she was "determined" to fight.

"It's a moral victory," she added. "This was big corporations thinking they are above the law."

Mrs Murphy said she planned to drink to her success and told journalists: "I shall go off to have the largest sambuca in the world."

Dave Atkinson, one of Mrs Murphy's supporters, said outside court that he had faced similar difficulties when running a bar called Idols in Kendal, Cumbria.

"I have been following this case for years," said Mr Atkinson, 65, who no longer runs the bar. "I was in a very similar position."

He added: "This is good news for the general public - as well as for pubs."

Lord Justice Stanley Burnton, sitting with Mr Justice Barling, described how Ms Murphy was convicted at Portsmouth magistrates court of "dishonestly" receiving a programme "with intent to avoid payment of any charge applicable to the reception of the programme".

The conviction under section 297(1) of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 was upheld by Portsmouth Crown Court.

Lord Justice Burnton said the prosecution was based on the Premier League owning the intellectual property rights relating to the screening of live Premier League football matches.

In the UK and Ireland, the league's sole licensee was BSkyB which authorised the use of decoder cards enabling customers to watch live games in its territory.

Ms Murphy cancelled her subscription to BSkyB because it was too expensive.

Instead she made use of a satellite dish, a decoder box and a viewing card from Nova, which was licensed to show matches in Greece, although Nova satellite's "footprint" extended to the UK.

The judge said the case raised the question whether Ms Murphy was guilty of the criminal offence of "intent" to avoid a programme reception charge under the Copyright Act.

He said it was now conceded by private prosecutors Media Protection Services Ltd that she was not and had been wrongly convicted.

The concession followed rulings by the European Court of Justice that the Nova card was not an "illicit device", and the territorial restrictions imposed on their use were "unlawful under EU law".

Allowing her appeal and quashing her convictions, the judge said: "The appellant had paid for the (Nova) cards. She had not avoided any charge applicable to their use and had not acted dishonestly."

The judge said today's ruling did not affect any laws relating to counterfeit or stolen viewing cards or "illicit devices".

He said: "The use of cards or devices originating from outside the EU also gives rise to different considerations from the issues in this appeal."

The Murphy case also had no bearing "on other issues relating to copyright or other intellectual property rights".

Today's short High Court judgment did not specifically refer to the European Court's additional findings that - while live matches were not protected by copyright - any surrounding media, such as any opening video sequence, the Premier League anthem, pre-recorded films showing highlights of recent Premier League matches and various graphics, were "works" protected by copyright.

Later the Premier League warned in a statement that Ms Murphy's legal victory would not prevent clubs and pubs being pursued in the courts if they persisted in showing live matches.

A league spokesman said a High Court decision in February in the case of QC Leisure made it clear the league was entitled to take legal action "to prevent the unauthorised use of our copyrights in pubs and clubs when they are communicated to the public without our authority".

The statement warned: "That unauthorised use gives rise to both civil and criminal penalties.

"Therefore should Mrs Murphy, or any other publican, use European Economic Area foreign satellite systems to show Premier League football on their premises without our authority and outside the scope of our authorisation, they make themselves liable for us to take action against them in both the civil and criminal courts."

PA

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