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By ESPN Staff

League take action over 'cheap' live games

The Premier League launched a High Court action today to blow the whistle on cheaper live televised matches.

The League is seeking damages and an order to stop companies supplying equipment which enables British viewers to receive the games via a foreign broadcaster rather than the more expensive domestic broadcaster BSkyB.

James Mellor QC, representing the Premier League, told Mr Justice Kitchin at the London court: 'It is a good old-fashioned rip off.'

He said QC Leisure and AV Station are supplying domestic decoding cards from Greece and North Africa which allow British viewers access to broadcasting services to which they are not entitled.

'In this country you can watch Premiership football courtesy of Sky. You pay your Sky subscription.'

He said that if publicans want to show the matches to customers, they have to pay a more expensive commercial subscription.

'If a publican takes a domestic Sky card and uses it to display Premiership football in his pub, he is obtaining unauthorised access. It is a breach of contract and a criminal offence.

'There have been upwards of 180 prosecutions of publicans who have used domestic Sky cards for commercial purposes.'

The companies claim that European law allows the free movement of goods throughout the community and if the cards are available on the market then they can be sold anywhere within the EC.

Mr Mellor said the case is not about free movement of goods but about illegal infringement of copyright.

'It is about dealers making a fat profit. All they do is get hold of a foreign card and apply a substantial mark up of up to 100%. They are just acting as a postal service.

'How do they get hold of these cards? They get them through deception.'

He said the defendants provide false names and addresses in Greece and North Africa to apply for the cards.

The cards cannot be sold outside the particular country where they are issued and when the authorised suppliers find out about the deception, the contracts are terminated and the service is switched off, he said.

The case, expected to last up to two weeks, follows a similar action involving pub landlady Karen Murphy last year.

Mrs Murphy, who runs the Red White and Blue pub at Southsea, Hampshire, argued that she did not commit a crime under domestic laws designed to prevent criminal copyright theft.

Lord Justice Pumfrey, sitting with Mr Justice Stanley Burnton, dismissed her appeal at the High Court last December.

The judge said BSkyB has the exclusive right to screen or broadcast the football matches in question in the UK and it was 'apparent' that Mrs Murphy knew that was the case.

Mrs Murphy bought a dish, decoder and card that enabled her to receive the games from Greek station Nova at a much cheaper rate than that of BSkyB.

She received feeds of live football and equipment for about £800 a year, compared with the £6,000 a year that she would have to pay BSkyB.

Mrs Murphy was prosecuted for two offences under the Copyright Design and Patents Act. She was found guilty of 'dishonestly receiving a programme included in a broadcasting service provided from a place in the UK with intent to avoid payment of any charge applicable to the reception of the programme'.