The Barclays Premiership has warned that Islanders are not exempt from penalties faced by UK landlords who use channels like Arabic station ART to dodge expensive Sky subscriptions.
Equally, those who subscribe to Sky, yet use cheaper foreign channels to show games during the Saturday afternoon blackout period (when Premiership matches cannot be shown live in order to protect UK stadium attendance), will be targeted.
Bill Bush, from the Premiership, said: ‘As far as we are concerned, Jersey comes under the same jurisdiction as the UK and is therefore subject to the same rules.
That means that live football is only licensed to be shown through Sky outside of the blackout period.
We do take action, because it’s illegal.
Once we have sold football rights to Europe, Africa, Asia or anywhere else outside the UK, to have the signal bounce back is a breach of copyright law.’ Many landlords have accused the Premiership0 of ‘bullying’ publicans in order to protect Sky’s monopoly over football, and one of the most internationally lucrative deals in sport.
Since 1992, the Premiership has earned over £6 billion from television – including a massive £1.2 billion payment from Sky to secure the 2007-10 rights to Premiership games – which has gone some way to bumping up top-flight footballers’ wages from £10,000 to £130,000 a week.
At the top end, an annual subscription to Sky for a UK publican costs in the region of £26,000.
Most St Helier pubs are paying at least £1,000 a month – but they are also paying for foreign systems.
One landlord of a St Helier bar, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: ‘We have four satellite boxes – two are Sky boxes, two are Arabic.
We show the football here on both, but we would not show a game on an Arabic channel if the game was being shown on Sky.
Obviously if Sky showed every game, we wouldn’t need foreign subscriptions.’ Until recently, most licencees have been unaware that the practice is illegal, as systems are fitted by outside suppliers who fail to warn the landlords.
Many in Jersey also believe the Island is exempt from the rules.
Another town pub landlord said:’We’ve had one or two calls from Sky about what we show, but because we have a subscription to Sky as well, they don’t seem to be too concerned.
Most places in town show both channels, and no one has told us we’re doing anything wrong.
If it was a problem, I’m sure something would have happened by now.’ Mr Bush said, however, that the high profile of recent cases in the UK – where a small number of landlords have been acquitted – means some might be disillusioned.
He said: ‘Some people are still trying to sell foreign satellite systems to pubs claiming that they are not breaking the law, and using the recent cases to persuade them that it’s okay.
What people don’t realise is that in the 14 years we have been running, we have convicted hundreds, and up until very, very recently we had never lost a case.
‘The reason for this is because the act we use – the 1988 UK Act of Copyright – holds a clause that says you must be being knowingly dishonest to be convicted.
On that technicality they have been let off – but if it happens again, they will be convicted.’ Mr Bush said that a big part of the recent drive is to make licencees realise that they could well be breaking the law – even if they have not yet been contacted.
However, he says that pubs will be given a chance to cease broadcasting foreign channels before they are taken to court, and advises landlords to get in touch with the Premiership if they need more information.
He said: ‘If there are any licencees acting illegally they should have been sent what we call a ‘desist letter’, asking them to stop broadcasting.
The reason we do this is to give them a chance, before prosecution.
We are not trying to take everyone to court – but we are trying to enforce the rules, and we are becoming quite vigorous when we find pubs who are breaking them.’