Landmark TV football ruling gives Sunderland landlord court appeal hope

Pub landlady Karen Murphy who has won a High Court fight over her conviction for showing top flight Premier League football matches using foreign decoders.
Pub landlady Karen Murphy who has won a High Court fight over her conviction for showing top flight Premier League football matches using foreign decoders.
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A FORMER landlord fighting to overturn a conviction for illegally showing live Premier League football matches in his pub could be set to learn his fate after a landmark court ruling.

John Royal was fined £750 by Sunderland magistrates for showing games via Albanian television at Oddies bar, in Hylton Road.

Last year, Mr Royal, who has now retired after 21 year behind the bar, appeared at Newcastle Crown Court to appeal the conviction and sentence.

However, the hearing, which was due to last around five days, was adjourned after a judge ruled it could not go ahead until the conclusion of a spearate major case involving a Portsmouth landlady.

Yesterday, it was conceded in the High Court that Karen Murphy’s appeal over using a cheaper Greek decoder in her pub to bypass controls over match screening must be allowed.

The announcment could mean the resumption of Mr Royal’s hearing.

Former Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn was one of the most outspoken critics of pubs screening matches via foreign TV channels.

Quinn, who has since stepped down from his role with Sunderland AFC, previously said he “despised” rules which meant fans could watch the game in a pub, probably spending as much while they are there as the price of a match ticket.

The High Court concession follows a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that found partly in her favour on various issues of law.

But a judge made clear that many other complex issues regarding the wider legality of screening matches would have to be decided “at a later date”.

Instead of using Sky, which has the rights to screen the Premier League in the UK, Mrs Murphy used the Greek station Nova’s coverage in her pub, which was cheaper than the equivalent Sky package.

She paid £800 a year for a Greek decoder, saying she “couldn’t afford” Sky’s charge of £700 a month.

She took her fight for the right to use the cheaper provider to the ECJ which ruled in October 2011 that having an exclusive system was “contrary to EU law”.

But the Premier League claimed a partial victory, after the ECJ said it maintained the copyright for some sections of the broadcast.

Mrs Murphy, who ran The Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, Hampshire, said she believed she had won “90 per cent” of the battle.

The ruling was enough for all sides to concede at London’s High Court that Ms Murphy’s conviction could not stand, though many issues over screening games remain outstanding.

The case is being seen as of importance to the way soccer TV rights are sold in the future and could have a crucial impact on the game as a whole.

Speaking after the latest hearing, a spokesman for the Premier League, said: “Following the news that Karen Murphy’s appeal to the High Court has seen her conviction overturned the Premier League would like to make clear that this decision does not change the outcome of the QC Leisure foreign satellite case.

“In that judgment QC Leisure, made on February 3, 2012, Lord Justice Kitchin was consistent with the ECJ ruling and made it 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.

“That unauthorised use gives rise to both civil and criminal penalties.

“Therefore should Mrs Murphy, or any other publican, use European Economic Area foreign satellite systems to show Premier League football on their premises without our authority and outside the scope of our authorisation, they make themselves liable for us to take action against them in both the civil and criminal courts.”

Mr Royal, from Deptford, Sunderland, was unavailable for comment today.

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho