The European Court of Justice has been advised that Sky has no legal right to stop people from using other European country satellite subscriptions and decoders to watch the likes of Premiership football in the UK.
In what will be viewed as a major blow for Sky, a non-binding European legal opinion offered to the court by Advocate General Juliane Kokott suggests that citizens can not legally be stopped from using foreign equipment and subscriptions to access films, sports and music.
Sky currently fork out huge amounts of money for exclusive UK rights to things like major movies and, crucially, Premier League football, but other EU countries offer similar services for a lesser tariff.
Greek coverage of Premiership football?
That means that people who pay a subscription to another EU nations satellite service and bring the box to the UK can watch football and movies for less than they would pay for the same service from Sky.
Kokott suggested that not allowing citizens of the EU to do this would partition the market into segments – which apparently impairs free access to services.
Although on the face of it any final decision that this is the case will be trumpeted as a victory for the consumer, the repercussions of such a ruling are far more complex.
For instance, the Premier League draws huge revenues by selling rights separately to different countries, and if those barriers are brought down then the broadcasters could well cut the amount they pay for the content.
There is also a long-standing agreement in the UK between broadcasters and the football authorities that games will not be broadcast at 3pm on a Saturday for fear it would cut live football attendances, but no such agreement is in place outside of Britain.
Interestingly, according to the advice, member states could still enforce people using viewing cards for personal viewing and not in a commercial premises.
Another factor is that content that is deemed more sensitive in one EU nation than another could cause more problems as well as differing watersheds.
Last, but not least, negotiating rights for music and movies would become a logistical minefield as region rather than nation becomes the potential coverage.
So, not straightforward, but certainly very important – we will be watching with interest.
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