4 Feb 2011

The pub landlady who took on Sky

Washington Correspondent

Siobahn Kennedy on the pub landlady whose legal fight to use a foreign satellite to screen Premier League matches could cost Sky millions of pounds.

The pub landlady who took on Sky - Reuters

It’s a tiny pub in the outskirts of Portsmouth. Yet the actions of Karen Murphy, the landlady at the Red White and Blue in Southsea could result in the complete overhaul of the rules used by the Premier League to dish out lucrative TV sports rights across Europe.

The story goes like this. Ms Murphy resented paying a Sky subscription of close to £500 a month to air top football matches in her pub. So she shopped around and found a cheaper alternative from a Greek set-top box maker instead. But the Premier League found out and took her to court, claiming she had broken copyright law because each broadcaster who buys rights from the Premier League has a monopoly over that game in the country – in this case Sky and ESPN.

She was fined and forced to pay £8,000. But undeterred, the feisty landlady took her case all the way to the European Court of Justice and today, the court’s prosecutor issued an opinion in her favour.

The prosecutor in question, Juliane Kokott, said restricting the sale and viewing of sports rights to one country is “contrary to European Union law”. In other words, broadcasters cannot stop customers using cheaper foreign satellite TV services to watch Premier League football.

To be clear this isn’t a ruling, but the prosecutor’s opinion is followed by the Court in the majority of cases. It is due to make its decision later this year.

But if it does uphold her opinion, the implications are huge. Any pub could use an alternative, cheaper service and if a pub is free to choose, could not any household too? Sky and ESPN would surely be forced to reduce their prices to be more competitive, a massive blow to Rupert Murdoch and to the Premier League whose fees prop up the massive sums paid for British and European football players.

Witness this week’s transfer deals. The decision may still be weeks away, but it will no doubt be another reason for late-night sessions in the Murdoch legal camp (as if they’re not burning the midnight oil already….)