PREMIER League bosses are to take legal action against Sunderland pub landlords who show live games illegally, it was announced today.
The organisation has hired an investigations company, which has now visited 5,000 pubs across the country this season, with Sunderland and Newcastle identified as hot spot areas.
No football matches at any professional level of the sport are allowed to be officially broadcast at 3pm on a Saturday, in a bid to encourage higher attendances.
But using satellite decoders means publicans can screen games without paying TV channel subscription fees.
A spokesman today confirmed that legal action against pubs on Wearside has started.
The news follows a ruling from the European Court of Justice in 2012 in which Portsmouth pub landlady Karen Murphy had a conviction for showing illegal broadcasts quashed.
However, the judge in that case ruled that the Premier League has copyright protection on certain graphics contained in the broadcasts – such as the league and club logos as well as the official anthem.
The court said a pub needs permission to show those logos and graphics.
Last week, the first High Court case since that European Court judgement took place, with the court finding in favour of the Premier League over a pub in Swansea, which has been ordered to stop using a Danish satellite to screen matches and to pay damages and costs of a minimum of £65,000.
Landlord Anthony Luxton’s legal team argued it should be free to show games this way under EU trade rules and has since launched an appeal.
A Premier League spokesman said: “Last week we had a significant High Court case regarding the use of unauthorised satellite systems in pubs to show Premier League football.
“The court ruled firmly in our favour, confirming that a pub in Swansea had infringed our copyright with its broadcasts of Premier League football and ordering the pub to pay damages and at least £65,000 in costs.
“We are currently undertaking our biggest ever pub investigations programme and are targeting certain areas, including the North East.
“We have commenced legal proceedings against pubs in Newcastle and Sunderland and several more in the region have received legal letters from the Premier League.
“If publicans want to avoid the risk of having legal action taken against them then Sky Sports and BT Sport are the way to go.”
Wearside landlord John Royal, who ran Oddies in Hylton Road, was convicted by Sunderland magistrates for showing games via Albanian television.
However, Mr Royal’s conviction was quashed last year after prosecution authority Media Protection Services Ltd unexpectedly went into liquidation.
Sunderland AFC is due to receive more than £60million in TV revenue money this season alone for allowing games screened live on Sky and BT Sports channels.
Former Black Cats chairman Niall Quinn famously said he “despised” supporters who chose to watch illegal broadcasts rather than attend games in person.
In 2011 he said: “I would never criticise anyone who doesn’t come to the stadium because of financial constraints, but I despise those who spend far more than the price of a ticket watching some overseas commentator describing the action.”
A spokesman for Sunderland AFC said the club were unable to comment.