Government restricts use of EU satellite viewing cards after Brexit Transition

There's legal changes for viewers who receive certain types of television service via satellite from the EU.

Official Government advice has confirmed that there will be restrictions on accessing certain types of satellite broadcasts to EU member states following Brexit, nullifying the legalisation of the availability of foreign satellite decoders since 2011.

The new rules were due to kick in on Brexit day, but have now been deferred to the 1st January 2021, at the end of the transition period.

Currently, viewers in the UK can choose to receive broadcasts that are aimed at other EU countries. This includes accessing encrypted services by using a satellite receiver and a viewing card for an EU-based television platform.

In 2011, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that viewers in the UK were exempt from Section 297 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA), meaning viewers could choose to receive an EU-based encrypted satellite service, even if the only reason to do so was to watch live sport, dramas or movies without having to pay a UK-based pay TV operator to watch these broadcasts.

The ruling came about after pub landlady Karen Murphy from Portsmouth fought a legal battle over whether or not she could use a Greek satellite TV service to show live Premier League matches, sidestepping Sky's commercial subscription. The European court said UK rules prohibiting the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards were contrary to the freedom to provide services.

The Government has confirmed that it will be "disapplying" provisions on freedom of establishment and the free movement of services after Brexit.

It's however promised not to go after EU nationals based in the UK who are using such services in order to receive programmes in their native language.

The guidance is part of the preparation for Brexit.

So the authorities are unlikely to start hunting down Polish households to see if they have a Cyfrowy Polsat receiver in their house, unless it can be proven they are using the foreign service just to watch Premier League matches so they can avoid paying Sky, Virgin or BT.

The legal jargon says that from Brexit, you can't use a satellite decoder "to access a programme included in a broadcast made from the UK with the intent of avoiding a charge associated with the programme." 

Reception of free-to-air satellite transmissions is not impacted by the advice.

Despite the court ruling in pub landlady Karen Murphy's favour, subsequent rulings have supported the Premier League and other sports organisations by confirming that "surrounding media", including clips, anthems and graphics are protected and publicians would have to get approval - which they wouldn't if they were using a non-approved service. Therefore, the main beneficiaries of the liberalised rules have been domestic users, who will be most impacted by the re-enforcement of rules.

The Government advises affected viewers to:
  • stop using EU satellite decoder devices to avoid committing an offence under section 297
  • consider instead purchasing the relevant UK satellite broadcast package to view the programmes.

The Government advice points out it's already illegal to use decoder cards for non-EU satellite services to access a programme included in a broadcast made from the UK with the intent of avoiding a charge associated with the programme. That would include services such as the Middle Eastern BeIN Sports service.

[H/T @EvanD]

This article was updated 31/01/2020 following confirmation of an revision to the policy start date issued by the Intellectual Property Office on the 30/01/2020.