Premier League's Court Victory Against Pubs Broadcasting Football Illegally
Football industry bosses today said they would tackle publicans using foreign satellite systems to broadcast Premier League action without permission after a new court ruling in a long-running row over the screening of live games in bars.
Premier League officials claimed victory in the latest round of a legal battle and said a ruling by a judge sitting in the High Court gave them "the right" to prevent "unauthorised use of our copyrights" in pubs and clubs.
Lawyers representing publicans said the law had been "clarified" and the Premier League and broadcasting firms had suffered "only nominal or trivial damages".
Lord Justice Kitchin, who announced his findings at a hearing in London, said the dispute had raised "issues of wide interest and general importance".
The judge said a lower court should assess what profits some pubs had made and what losses the Premier League and broadcasters, including British Sky Broadcasting, had suffered.
Lord Justice Kitchin's ruling came four months after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) analysed the issue and said transmission of games in pubs could be in breach of European copyright legislation.
A Premier League spokesman said after today's High Court hearing: "Lord Justice Kitchin's judgment is consistent with the ECJ ruling.
"It is clear that the law gives us the right to prevent the unauthorised use of our copyrights in pubs and clubs when they are communicated to the public without our authority.
"We will now resume actions against publicans who are using European Economic Area foreign satellite systems to show Premier League football on their premises unlawfully and without our authority.
"There are other elements of the ECJ ruling which we believe are applicable under UK law and we will continue to explore these to protect our rights via the courts and other legal means."
Lawyers representing publicans had told Lord Justice Kitchin that "the law had been clarified in a way which allows (publicans) to comply with it".
They said "only nominal or trivial damages have been suffered" by the Premier League.
Premier League bosses and broadcasters, including British Sky Broadcasting, began legal action against some pub bosses and firms it accused of unlawfully supplying equipment more than three years ago.
The dispute centred on the supply of "decoder cards", which allow UK pubs to show encrypted footage of games broadcast in Greece and Italy.
In 2008, Lord Justice Kitchin sought guidance on European law from the ECJ - which made a ruling in October 2011. The judge today published his analysis of the issues in the light of that guidance.
"The claimants contended that publicans ... have communicated (Premier League) copyright works to the public (unlawfully) by transmitting the claimants' broadcasts, via their television screens and speakers, to the customers present in their public houses," said Lord Justice Kitchin, in his written ruling today.
"The defendants argued that this case was completely misconceived."
He added: "A large number of claims and defences have been deployed by the parties in these actions and they have raised issues of wide interest and general importance."
The judge concluded that there had been "copyright infringement".
"I ... think it highly desirable that I should declare the scope of copyright infringement which I have found and, moreover, should do so with precision," he said.
"A declaration should be limited to acts of infringement of specific works established against each defendant."
He said any injunction to prevent further infringement must be precise and said the Patents County Court should investigate the level scale of profit and loss.
"The claimants seek an injunction to restrain further infringement of their copyright works," he said.
"The defendants resist the grant of an injunction on the basis that the claimants advanced wide, all-encompassing and complex claims but have succeeded only to a limited extent; the law has now been clarified in a way which allows the defendants to comply with it."
He added: "Any injunction must be formulated with precision and identify the works in respect of which infringement has been found.
"In this regard I accept that, as a matter of general principle, the defendants who are continuing to trade must be entitled to carry on their businesses in a way which avoids infringement of (Premier League) copyrights if they are able to do so."
The judge said it was appropriate to order an inquiry into profits made and loss suffered.
"(The Premier League) seeks an order for an inquiry as to damages or, at its election, an account of profits. The defendants resist such an order on the basis that only nominal or trivial damages have been suffered," he said.
"I am satisfied that it is appropriate to make an order for an inquiry or account but that in the light of the scale of the infringements it is appropriate that the cases should be transferred to the Patents County Court."
Lawyer Adam Rendle, who works for law firm Taylor Wessing in London, said after the hearing: "As it has to do, the High Court followed the European court's ruling.
"The (Premier League) can rely on the English court's decision to enforce its copyright in some ancillary parts of the broadcast footage, like its logos and text. The devil will be in the detail."
He added: "Looking at the bigger picture, it is likely that some in the European Commission will view cases like these as justification for their efforts to enable pan-European licensing of copyright.
"In the meantime, all rights owners have an interest in protecting their copyright when there is unauthorised use of their material. That is what the FAPL (Premier League) will now try to continue doing."
Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin tonight welcomed the ruling.
"I am glad that enforcement of copyright holders rights has been upheld," said Ms McClarkin, Conservative spokesman on sport in the European Parliament.
"This will ensure the quality of sports broadcasting as well as the resulting revenue stream for grassroots sports continues."