Euro ruling boosts UK press

Winner: the BHB cannot charge papers for printing racecards

A ruling by the European Court of Justice that football leagues and the British Horseracing Board cannot charge newspapers for fixture listings or racecards has come at an opportune moment for the British press.

Newspapers have reached stalemate in negotiations with the Premier and Football Leagues over conditions for coverage of their football matches this season.

In a haggle over who benefits financially – the newspapers or the leagues – the leagues are seeking to limit timing of when reports can be released.

The press may be barred from matches after today (12 November) if there is no movement towards an agreement.

The European court ruling comes at the end of a four-year case brought by Fixtures Marketing, which compiles fixture lists, against three European countries and by the BHB against bookmaker William Hill, claiming their database rights are being infringed.

Parts of the case before the British Appeal Court had been transferred to the European Court in the hope of getting a definitive ruling.

The judges decided that the sporting organisations could only apply for licences to sell their database if they had invested substantially in compiling the information.

They did not think there had been such a level of investment in the football fixtures and racecards put out by Fixtures Marketing and the BHB.

Steve Oram, director of the Newspaper Publishers Association, commented: “It seems that Europe has come to the rescue of common sense and the desire of publishers to stimulate and maintain interest in football through the use of fixture lists. This serves the public interest.

“We shall now watch carefully to see how this judgment is viewed by the Court of Appeal.”

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “Hopefully judgments of this kind will help the football authorities and the press to get back onto a sensible way of ensuring that the public gets the game covered as it always has been.”

Lawyer Tom Usher, who acted for William Hill in the case, said his client will be asking for costs approaching a seven-figure sum.

By Jean Morgan

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