A COURT ruling quashing the conviction of a Sunderland landlord for screening live Premiership football matches could open the floodgates to similar cases across the UK.
John Royal yesterday won a lengthy legal battle to clear his name after he was fined by Sunderland magistrates for showing games via Albanian television at Oddies bar in Hylton Road.
His sudden victory came after prosecution authority Media Protection Services Ltd (MPS), who launched cases against pub owners across the country, including Mr Royal, unexpectedly went into liquidation.
The cases brought by the MPS have been seen as important to the way football TV rights are sold in future and have a crucial impact on the game itself.
Due to the sudden collapse of the prosecution authority, other landlords in Mr Royal’s position face certain victory in their cases.
At Newcastle Crown Court yesterday, Judge John Evans said: “Genuinely, this is the first time in my experience, either at the bar or as a member of the judiciary, that the prosecution authority has gone into liquidation.
“The reality is there is no one now to challenge this appeal.
“Accordingly, I will be making an order allowing the appeal, quashing the conviction.”
Mr Royal was not at the court hearing yesterday and has since retired after 21 years behind the bar.
Former SAFC chairman Niall Quinn has been outspoken about the detrimental effects which pub screenings can have on the game.
While at the Stadium of Light, he told the Echo: “It’s much more beneficial to both the players and the club to have people here at the Stadium of Light getting behind the team rather than watching them in a pub.”
But publicans, using special decoders linked to satellite systems abroad, continued to screen Premier League games, thus avoiding paying expensive TV rights’ packages.
Football bosses continued to argue the screening of live Premier League matches without permission is not only unauthorised, but also unfair on fans who have paid to go to matches.
It was conceded in the High Court in 2011 that Portsmouth landlady Karen Murphy’s appeal over using a Greek decoder in her pub to show matches must be allowed. This followed a European Court of Justice ruling that found partly in her favour on various issues of law.
However, many other complex issues regarding the wider legality of screening such matches has yet be decided, and there is now no prosecution authority to pursue the cases.
Mrs Murphy’s landmark case involved her using the Greek station Novas coverage in her pub, which was cheaper than paying for the equivalent Sky package.
She paid £800 a year for a Greek decoder, saying she could not afford Sky’s then charge of £700 per 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 involving other pubs, like Oddies, over screening games remain outstanding.