Pubs use cheap Albanian TV to view top games
Landmark court win could allow households to legally circumvent pricey Sky subscriptions
Thousands of households and hundreds of pubs around Ireland are already using an Albanian digital TV service based in Tirana to access top-flight soccer matches.
And last week's complex judgement, in which an English pub landlady won a landmark court case in Europe against the English Premier League, could mean tens of thousands more people here making arrangements to circumvent monthly subscriptions to Sky Sports and other satellite broadcasters.
Pub landlady Karen Murphy, originally from Cork, who runs the Red White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, was taken to court by the Premier League, which sold the rights to broadcast games in this part of the world exclusively to Sky and ESPN for £1.8bn (€2.1bn).
They claimed Mrs Murphy was in breach of copyright and an English Court agreed with them, fining the pub landlady £8,000 (€9,300).
But she went to Europe and won her appeal -- though the judgement contains a number of caveats, which means it is unclear if the ruling will create a broadcasting free for all.
On Friday, the Vintners Federation of Ireland CEO Padraig Cribben said: "We are awaiting further clarification on this ruling and its application in Ireland."
However, the VFI and publicans all over the country are seriously concerned about the subscriptions charged by Sky for broadcasting premier soccer and other sports events.
Monthly subscriptions charged to publicans are based on six bands, depending on turnover.
A big pub is now paying €945 per Sky box. However, loss-making Setanta are offering cheaper packages.
However, other publicans are already accessing foreign satellite services, according to David Maher of www.tvtrade.ie, which has grown in two and a half years into a company with a €2m turnover.
"We sell everything except the decoder card ourselves. There are definitely loads of pubs taking this route because they can make huge savings, which means that many can stay in business. This new ruling will add further impetus," David told the Sunday Independent.
"People are using an Albanian satellite TV service called Tring, which costs about €280 to €350 here in Ireland," he said.
There are three to five sports channels on Tring but it only broadcasts when there is a match on. But the downside is that, while some matches have English commentary, others are in Albanian.
They provide Premier League, FA Cup, the Europa League, the Russian League, and South American football, including the Brazilian Premiership.
However, in the sports section of this newspaper today Niall Collins, an EU and competition lawyer, suggests that the devil may be in the detail of last week's landmark European court judgement.
In a lengthy assessment, he points out that, importantly, the European Court of Justice also decided that the use of foreign decoder cards in public houses "constitutes a communication to the public of certain copyright-protected works incorporated in the broadcast (in the form of, for example, the FAPL anthem, pre-recorded footage showing highlights of recent matches and various graphics)". This could provide a get out clause for Sky and the Premier League.
Mr Collins points out that the case now reverts to the English High Court, which will apply the European Court of Justice findings to the facts of the case involving Karen Murphy of the Red White and Blue pub.
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