After a High Court hearing this week, the League says it will take action against pubs for breach of copyright. But the importers say they are free to carry on their business.
The Premier League had initially taken out a civil action against QC Leisure, importer, and SR Leisure Limited, publican. Along with the now famous case of pub landlady Karen Murphy, the case was sent to Europe for legal advice and guidance on points of law. UK prosecutions for using these systems were put on hold.
The European courts ruled that national laws that prohibit the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards were contrary to the freedom to provide services. But it also said while live matches were not protected by copyright, any surrounding media, such as any opening video sequence, the Premier League anthem, pre-recorded films showing highlights of recent Premier League matches and various graphics, were.
Now the High Court has said that in some aspects the importers of foreign satellite equipment had been in breach of Premier League copyright by allowing the showing of foreign broadcasts. But it also said that the Premier League had only proved its claims of breach of copyright “to a limited extent”.
Lord Justice Kitchen said that “the defendants who are continuing to trade must be entitled to carry on their business in a way which avoids infringement of [Premier League] copyright if they are able to do so”.
Furthermore, he said that clauses in Premier League TV contracts with national broadcasters that prohibit them from broadcasting Premier League games outside their own country’s borders may constitute “a restriction on competition”.
The Premier League said: “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.”
Smithfield Partners which has represented QC Leisure and other defendants said “Our clients are extremely pleased that, in line with the finding of the European Court, the judgment confirms that the majority of claims against our clients are to be dismissed.”
The High Court is now expected to “make a declaration which will set out the precise infringing acts established against QC Leisure and the other defendants”.