A LANDMARK legal ruling may open the floodgates for publicans to use foreign decoders to show live Premier League football matches.
The High Court in London yesterday overturned the conviction of landlady Karen Murphy for using a foreign decoder to screen football matches in her Portsmouth pub.
It is a case which could lead to an overhaul in the way football TV rights are sold and is expected to lead to more pub owners using foreign decoders to bypass hefty fees to satellite providers.
Ms Murphy, whose mother is from Cork, was paying £800 (€945) a year to the Greek satellite company Nova. She claimed she "couldn't afford" the £700 (€827) a month being charged by Sky, which has the rights to screen all the big Premier League fixtures.
In Ireland, publicans pay around €800 a month to Sky for the games. However, legal experts have warned pub owners here to tread carefully.
Ms Murphy had taken her fight to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which ruled in October 2011 that while the Premier League did not have copyright over the matches, it did have intellectual copyright over other aspects of the production package such as opening and closing sequences, graphics and highlights.
"The implication is that Irish publicans could do the same thing Ms Murphy is doing... But publicans have got to be careful," cautioned barrister James McDermott.
"The Premier League was very aggressive in this case -- it brought a private prosecution against her... over merely a few hundred euro a year.
"Also, an Irish publican, if there are any using one of these cards, has to be cogniscent they aren't using the graphics, goal highlights and other elements protected by copyright."
Mr McDermott also pointed out that football fans can now watch live matches online.
He said that as this form of viewing becomes more popular, "ultimately the loser in this may not just be the publicans or the Premier League, but both".
Following on from the ECJ ruling, the High Court yesterday formally overturned Ms Murphy's conviction.
Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, said he wanted to see European viewing cards legalised for commercial use.
He said he was waiting for legal clarification to understand the implications of the Murphy case for pubs in Ireland. However, he claimed the cost for publicans of using Sky to screen matches is "at best prohibitive and at worst a monopoly".
"We calculate the average cost to our members is in the region of €800 a month and can be anything up to €1,500 a month," he said.
Sky insisted last night it would continue to support legal action against publicans who, it said, were breaking the law.
"The UK courts have already ruled that the unauthorised use of the Premier League's copyrighted material via foreign satellite systems in pubs infringes copyright and is therefore illegal. This remains the case following the ruling in the Murphy case," said a spokesperson.