The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has been asked whether football rights holders can stop a company importing cheap satellite television decoder cards to allow games to be shown in pubs.
Football's European governing body UEFA has sued Euroview, which imports decoder cards from elsewhere in the EU allowing pubs access to matches from foreign television feeds at a fraction of the cost of paying for rights from UK broadcasters.
The High Court has said that the CJEU can resolve aspects of the dispute, in which UEFA claims its copyrights are being infringed.
It is the second such case to be referred to the CJEU from the High Court. The English Football Association Premier League (FAPL) and QC Leisure and AV Station are still waiting for answers to the questions referred to the CJEU in a similar case in 2008.
The European Union is founded on the principle that cross border trade should be free and unfettered, but the football rights market is based on the ability of sporting bodies to sell rights to broadcasters in each country for very different prices.
Because interest in English football is far greater in the UK than other EU countries it can demand a much higher fee from broadcasters here. Those broadcasters then charge householders and pubs fees to view games.
In the FAPL case it was estimated that pubs would have to pay £6,000 a year to Sky Sports for matches they could show via foreign-bought decoders for £800.
UEFA claims that its copyright is infringed when foreign decoding systems are used to show football matches in UK pubs without a licence from it. It said that if Euroview's practice was allowed to continue then whichever country had the cheapest access to a particular event would become the de-facto EU-wide broadcaster for it.
Euroview claimed that it was protected by Section 28A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act, a section which implements EU law on satellite re-broadcasting. This section gives a broadcaster immunity from copyright infringements that are temporary and essential to the operation of a broadcasting system.
QC Leisure and AV Station relied on the same argument in their case and the High Court said that because that case involved a clash of EU copyright and trade laws, the CJEU should be asked to interpret the laws.
Euroview asked the High Court to put its case on hold until the CJEU had ruled in the FAPL case because the questions to be asked would be very similar, but Mr Justice Kitchin, who had presided over both cases, said that questions should be referred in this case as well.
The Court said that if it refused to make a reference now it would be denying UEFA the chance to argue in front of the CJEU that the importing of decoding systems was against the law, and so ordered that the case be referred to the CJEU.
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