(CN) – English pubs may broadcast the country’s football matches by buying inexpensive devices that pick up transmissions meant for foreign countries, a European court adviser ruled Thursday. The nonbinding opinion could shake things up for those with lucrative, exclusive broadcast rights to the continent’s favorite sport, which Americans know as soccer.
Advocate General Juliane Kokott, an adviser to the European Union’s top legal authority, the Court of Justice, found that satellite providers cannot put territorial restrictions on the broadcast of English Premier League matches within the EU.
The opinion is a blow to the Football Association Premier League, the company that controls broadcasting for the top English soccer clubs. The organization had challenged use of imported decoder cards – by British pubs in particular – to circumvent paying higher prices for access to the same matches within the United Kingdom.
Watching the matches live in U.K. requires a pricey satellite subscription, while foreign countries can access the signals, which are encrypted, by using a decoder card.
Some British pub owners began buying decoder cards imported from Greece to show matches without the subscription fees.
The court adviser’s analysis states that exclusive territorial broadcasting rights segment the internal EU market into various national markets – a notion that is incompatible with the freedom to provide services.
In this case, the charges for an EU service provider have been duly paid by another EU entity, Kokott wrote, noting that there is no right to charge different prices in different EU member states for the same service.
Within the logic of creating a unified EU market, price differences are offset by trade. No company can profit off the elimination of an internal market, Kokott concluded.
The decision was also based, in part, on the lack of comprehensive EU legislation on rights relating to public broadcast not involving an entrance fee. Though not binding, such opinions are usually followed by the court.