Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The end of civilization as we know it...

...or something like that as the European Court of Justice sticks it to Sky and the Premier League by allowing us to ship in those foreign decoders and watch the football as broadcast by Greeks, Finns and Luxembourgois. The sound of pub pontification echoes across the world (or would if more pubs were open) and many predict that the great football bubble will burst. In just a few short years will we see Wayne Rooney supplementing his meagre income by shining shoes at Piccadilly station and Arsene Wenger sat with a batter paper cup outside Highbury Station?

Somehow, people seem to miss the point. Quite rightly there is no copyright protection on a football match – after all, what’s involved? We point a camera at the pitch and, hey presto, a football match is broadcast. Not much human creativity there! So the issue never was copyright – the issue was the licence. And the ECJ has reminded us that we live in a ‘single market’ and that broadcasters cannot make arbitrary boundaries for their own purposes within than market that are enforceable. This is what Sky and the Premier League tried to do.

However, the idea that this will end the football bubble is misplaced. The licence agreements are time limited and subject to renegotiation. Up to that point the licensees (including Sky) are obliged to comply with the contracts – including, I assume, paying the fees. So in the short-term there is no effect on the Premier Leagues revenues. The problem comes when the licences are renegotiated.

The Premier League will – I’m prepared to bet – simply issue one set of licences for the whole EU. The losers won’t be Sky (unless some upstart Slovakian broadcaster outbids them) but the various local licence-holders. There won’t be a licence for Greece, a licence for Spain and a licence for Sweden – just one EU licence.
The publican in Portsmouth may be grinning broadly right now but her action, it seems to me, has caused little more than an irritation to the Premier League – but possibly a bigger bill for Sky (or that upstart Slovakian broadcaster).

It probably isn’t the end of the Premier League gravy train. Civilization will be saved!


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