Football match fixture list copyright claim rejected

Newcastle v Wolves in the Premier League Media outlets and others must at present pay a fee for reproducing football fixture lists

Football authorities in England and Scotland have had a court claim over football fixtures' copyright rejected.

European judges said compiling match fixture lists needed "significant" work, but did not entail the creativity required for copyright protection.

Yahoo, bookmaker Stan James and sports information firm Enetpulse had been accused of breaching EU copyright laws.

But the Premier League said it was for national courts to rule whether or not copyright protection was afforded.

The matter will now return to the UK for a final ruling, and the league said it was confident that this hearing would go its way, and provide "database protection for the English and Scottish football leagues' fixtures".

Gambling firms

The case had been brought on behalf of the football leagues by Football Dataco.

It is the firm responsible for protecting the rights acquired in English and Scottish football league fixtures, and said the trio of firms had breached copyright by failing to pay for the use of the match schedules.

Football Dataco grants licences to third parties allowing them - for a fee - to reproduce the Premier League, the Football League, Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League fixtures.

News and media services, as well as gambling firms, fantasy football operators and other commercial outlets, use the information to produce fixture information for fans and allow gamblers to bet on events.

The case had originated in the English courts, before being sent to the European Court of Justice for clarification of certain points of database law.

High Court

"A football fixture list cannot be protected by copyright when its compilation is dictated by rules or constraints which leave no room for creative freedom," said the European judges.

The case was referred to the European court by the High Court in London, which must now "assess, in the light of the considerations set out by the [Luxembourg] court, whether the football fixture lists concerned are databases which satisfy the conditions of eligibility for copyright protection".

The European judges added: "However, the court adds that unless the procedures for creating the lists concerned as described by the national court are supplemented by elements reflecting originality in the selection or arrangement of the data contained in those lists, they do not suffice for those lists to be protected by the copyright laid down in the directive."

However, the Premier League said there were elements of the case which indicated that football fixture lists were "capable of database copyright protection".

TV listings

One copyright expert said the European ruling seemed to leave the UK court with little room for manoeuvre now.

"The ECJ has left pretty much no scope for the English court to do anything except say, 'There is no copyright in the fixture list'," said Mark Daniels, an expert in copyright, patents, and trademarks at law firm Browne Jacobson.

And he said that if that were the case, then in future, anyone would be able to use the football fixtures lists, as long as they did not try to imply that they were representing the football leagues.

Mr Daniels also said the case could have a potential future impact on other areas in the sales and licensing of "fixture lists", such as with television listings.

"This has a much wider impact for those people who create data, such as those who create TV schedules," he said.

"There must now be questions about whether any copyright could exist in a TV listing."

'Revenue'

Another legal expert, Tom Usher, of SJ Berwin law firm, who has in the past worked with Ladbrokes betting firm and the Association of British Bookmakers, said the financial implications of the decision could be huge.

"Since a 1959 UK decision that such lists were protected, the UK professional football leagues, most recently acting through Football Dataco, have obtained many millions of pounds from betting operators and newspapers for the use of the lists," he said.

The Premier League also said that the monies gained from fixture list copyright provided "much needed revenue at all levels of the professional game".

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