As a landlord am I able to show Premier League matches live from a foreign channel?

Matches Scheduled to be shown between 3 and 5 pm on a Saturday

Premier League and Football League matches which are scheduled to be played between 3 and 5 pm on a Saturday afternoon are not legally allowed to be shown on television as provided for by the Broadcasting Act 1996.

This is due to two main factors:

  1. To encourage people to attend the actual match
  2. To encourage people to play and be involved at grass roots football which usually kicks off at a similar time on a Saturday

Often pubs try and get around this provision however by showing matches which are screened by satellite in other countries.

What is the current position in the way which football broadcasts are shown in the UK?

The Football Association Premier League (FAPL) Ltd is the organizational body which both owns and runs the English Premier League. It is made up of all the clubs involved in the Premier League and most importantly owns the rights to broadcast the Premier League matches.

These rights are then sold to companies such as BskyB and ESPN in order to be able to show the games live, to create highlights of the matches and to create packages to sell to foreign audiences. Foreign broadcasters will then pay these companies for these packages and the ability to show the games abroad.

Viewers in the UK will then be charged to subscribe to these services. If a pub or other licensed premises wishes to subscribe to this service they will have to pay an amount which is significantly higher than that paid by individual households.

How do some pubs get around this?

Certain companies sell specific equipment to UK pubs which allows them to watch the foreign feeds of UK matches without having to pay the subscription to the UK licensees of FA Premier League matches – Sky and ESPN.

This equipment is in the form of decoder cards which enables the encrypted feed sent to the foreign stations to be decoded and shown in the UK.

This in turn enables pubs to show matches without subscribing to either Sky or ESPN. In certain cases pubs which do subscribe to these services also have decoder cards enabling them to show matches at 3pm on a Saturday breaching the rule stated above.

Is this illegal?

It is clearly illegal for licensed premises to show matches at 3pm on a Saturday but the laws in relation to the decoder equipment is a little less clear cut.

Breach of Copyright

In relation to this that FA Premier League have argued that the use of this decoder equipment is in breach of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 which it states provides them with the right to charge for access to the content which it has its rights in.

Illegal Decoder Equipment

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 and the European Commission Conditional Access Directive define illicit devices which is used to decode encrypted data which the use of is clearly illegal and infringes the rights that the FA Premier League has in the showing of their matches.

Often however, problems arise when the equipment used has been purchased legitimately in another European Union Member State and then imported into that European Union Member State legitimately. The term illicit device contained with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act is argued to be limited to pirate or counterfeit decoders and therefore does not include decoders procured in this manner.

This is a question which is currently before the European Court of Justice.

Is selling rights to football matches exclusively a breach of Competition Law?

An agreement to limit goods or services sold to certain territories is usually held to infringe Article 81 of the EC Treaty which prohibits agreements between parties which have the effect of reducing competition on that particular market.

However, the broadcasting of football is often held to be a special case in relation to Article 81 of the EC Treaty as carving up the territories is thought to be the only way in which companies are able to make the money back which they have spent on procuring the rights in the first place.

It has also been argued that effectively prohibiting the selling of the decoder equipment is restricting trade between European Union Member States which is effectively prohibited by the European Union by Articles 28-29 of the EC Treaty.

All these arguments are currently before the European Court of Justice so currently if your pub is showing matches in this manner you are likely to face court action. If however, the European Court of Justice finds against the FA Premier League it is likely that the way football matches are shown in local pubs will change dramatically.