EC points way to European broadcast rights

The European Commission is likely to propose collective copyright legislation that could lead to BSkyB and other digital TV operators being forced to make their programmes available to viewers across the EU.

In a January 11th communication to government ministers and the European Parliament on ‘A coherent framework for building trust in the Digital Single Market for e-commerce and online services’, the Commission has suggested there is a need to review the existing copyright law and the implications of the so-called ‘Premier League’ ruling.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled October 4th that there must be a free market in the provision of programme services. The case came about because a UK pub landlady was fined £8,000 after being charged with using a Greek decoder to allow her customers to watch Sky football on Nova for about one-third of what Sky charges for public house subscriptions.

The ECJ – which followed the advice of its Advocate – deemed that national laws which prohibit the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards are contrary to the freedom to provide services. It said national legislation, which banned the use of overseas decoders, could not “be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums”.

“It should be possible for the collective management of copyright to become more European structured, thereby facilitating the issues of licences covering a number of regions,” the Commission said, adding that “European citizens who have moved to another member state should be able to continue to watch their favourite programmes.”

The communication suggested that “Ambitious implementation of the European Strategy for Intellectual Property Rights will foster the development of a richer and more appropriate offer on a European scale. In 2012, the Commission will submit proposals to create a legal framework for the collective management of copyright, with a view to enabling multi-territory and pan-European licensing.”

Selling rights on a pan-European rather than a country-by-country basis would reduce their value and could lead to rights-holders requiring their TV partners to include more copyrighted elements in broadcasts.

The plans are part of a move toward the collective management of copyright in the EU, with the Commission expressing concern that the availability of online music varies from country to country.

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