A massive fine of £70,000 was imposed on Birmingham licensee Susan French after she illegally screened SkySports broadcasts to customers in her pub. She admitted breaching copyright by screening matches without a subscription. This follows a change in the law which makes it easier for Sky to prosecute publicans.
Breach of copyright claims; the back story
In the well known Murphy Case which started back in 2007, Karen Murphy was prosecuted for screening Premier League football matches at her pub using a Greek decoder which was significantly cheaper than a Sky subscription. She was convicted of dishonestly receiving a broadcast with intent to avoid payment of a charge. In 2012 the High Court overturned Ms Murphy’s conviction following a reference to the European Court of Justice. The High Court said that restricting the sale and use of foreign decoder cards in the UK was contrary to the freedom to provide services across the EU member states.
However, shortly after the Murphy case the High Court decided in the case of FAPL v QC Leisure that the Premier League was entitled to protect its copyright in the media surrounding a match – such as the anthem, pre-recorded sequences and graphics. Screening a match without permission would infringe copyright unless the copyrighted matter was removed before broadcast.
Ever since the Murphy case publicans have been prosecuted and received hefty fines for using foreign decoder cards and breaching Sky’s copyright. The only legal way to screen Sky sports in the UK is via an agreement with Sky Business. Screening sport through another source (e.g. a foreign decoder card) will infringe Sky’s copyright.
Copyright in football broadcasting
Copyright has become ever more embedded in football broadcasting. The Premier League has copyright in its logo, club logos, boxes containing possession stats and corners, graphics and its anthem. However, until recently there was still an argument that if all logos were removed and music muted that maybe using a foreign decoder card would not breach copyright.
Change to law brings clarity
A change to the law came into force on 15 June 2016. The effect is clear – if a pub shows an unauthorised foreign broadcast of a Premier League match then this is a breach of copyright. Even if logos are removed and music muted it is now the broadcast of the match itself which breaches copyright.
Sky has always said that it is committed to protecting the business of those publicans who pay their subscriptions and broadcast legally.
Publicans should be left in no doubt that this change in the law makes it more straight forward for Sky to successfully prosecute anyone who uses a foreign decoder card to broadcast a Premier League match. The law is now clear and awards of damages for breach are high.