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I’ve been meaning to blog something on the subject of screened football matches in pubs for some time. As the January transfer window closes and the bizarre economics of football is spread over the newspapers now seems a good time. I follow developments in the saga of pubs and bars that screen foreign satellite TV.

There is little point in commenting on the crazy economics of the game of football other than to say that so long as “fans” are willing to stump up ever increasing sums, the economics of the game will remain more entertaining than what occurs on the pitch.

Having said that I quite enjoy watching a game of football. I don’t follow the game as such, or follow a team, but I do like to watch anything described as “The Big Game”. From reading the blogosphere and the views of many that love traditional pubs one can get the impression that seeing a football game on in a pub is as awful as an absence of old man’s pongy ale. Pubs ought to be quiet places full of old timers sipping away at pints of mild in front of a roaring fire in a grotty old building that has stood since the English Civil War. God forbid anyone enjoys themselves or smiles. Popular music, football, keg lager? Down with that sort of thing!

Watching a football game in the UK can be either free to air or for regular season games require a subscription to Sky pay TV. Many pubs subscribe to Sky via a business package that affords the copyright to broadcast the game to customers and is more expensive than a personal subscription. The rights to the games are held by the Football Association that sell on those rights to TV broadcasters for each region they have cut the world into. The FA know that an English football match is worth more to UK broadcasters than none UK broadcasters and that none UK fans cannot get to see any game at the stadium. Hence the rights are sold more cheaply to none UK broadcasters and games are shown live that would otherwise not be in the UK. The FA own a monopoly of broadcast rights that apparently isn’t an illegal cartel via the clubs that form the league.

The technicalities of broadcasting have resulted in broadcast signals being available beyond the remit of the copyrights the broadcaster has bought since broadcasting first began. In the days of analogue terrestrial television it was possible to pick up UK TV in parts of Holland and Northern France. As the people picking up these signals were few in number and private individuals not engaged in a commercial activity (Dutch bars never picked up on the exciting commercial possibilities of showing Eastenders) it was never considered an issue worth pursuing. Why would a copyright holder of a Hollywood movie that sold the rights to the BBC for broadcast in the UK have much of a problem with a few hundred other people watching it, considering the costs and legal issues involved?

Satellite signals are however receivable across large landmasses. In point of fact, any satellite signal is receivable by 50% of the globe. There is no technical reason why I cannot receive a signal from any one of 50% of the global broadcasters of the world. It is to do with the world being round and not flat. With the advent of pay TV and the revenues from it, many signals are encrypted and rights fiercely protected. To decode the signal I would have to acquire a decode card from the broadcaster. In a free EU market you would think there ought to be nothing stopping me buying a decode card from any EU broadcaster. If I wanted to watch German football and TV, I should be able to subscribe to German Sky. German Sky would not sell me one for use in the UK, and also if I wanted to watch German football it is broadcast on ESPN in the UK and available cheaper to me than it is to domestic German customers.

However if the broadcasters would sell me one, is any law being broken? Copyright is being broken but am I breaking copyright by receiving it or are the broadcasters breaking copyright by broadcasting a signal beyond their market? It’s a tricky one.

I have been following the issue of UK pubs showing football matches from foreign satellite TV for a while. The morning advertiser covers the subject often enough to remain informed of goings on. I have an interest in it because whilst I am not a pub regular I do like to watch the odd game with the lads over a pint or two. It may not be your cup of tea, but it is mine. Football for me is a draw and a reason to go into a pub on a wet rainy weekday night and meet up with the chaps for a few scoops.

Many pubs around my neck of the woods use Arab satellite TV to show the football. A workings man club I occasionally go into despite not being a member and because the old timer on the door never asks and even holds the door open for me shows Arab satellite TV on 3 big TV’s in the room they keep the full size snooker tables and dart boards in. It is not your cup of tea, keg lager and bitter under £2 a pint and no beardy beer geeks to be found, but it is a cracking atmosphere. 3pm games not shown on Sky are available; it is cheaper for the pub, bar or club and me the punter sits with my mates watching the game drinking cheap beer. I’m not about to complain, and I gather few do. The establishments that come a cropper do so from Sky TV inspectors rather than vexatious punters.

The legality of this state of affairs is I gather currently being bounced about the European courts. I hope the courts consider the rights of humble EU citizens to live in a free market and not be stitched up by large corporations that seek to cut the world into separate markets for exploitation. I hope the law of contract in the free market supersedes that of copyright. I hope more than expect, mind you. If the kybosh is placed on this noble attempt to stick two fingers up at the cartels of large corporations, hope lies in the internet. The internet has all but ended copyright in music, TV and film. I’ve found a few websites that show any sports game in the world streamed live, but still have little interest in baseball. It looks a bit grainy when I plug my net book into my TV, but it can only get better. It might mean letting my mates in my house to neck my gorgeous collection of cheap lager and incur the wrath of the squeeze, but at least it is one up on Rupert Murdoch. I wonder what the legalities are if I take a netbook computer into a Spoons and use the free wifi to stream footie to the table my mates and I are sat at? An experiment may occur.