Yahoo May Win Clash Over U.K. Soccer Data, EU Court Says

Yahoo! Inc. may win a bid to access annual schedules of the English and Scottish soccer leagues, the European Union’s highest court said.

Soccer leagues may not be able to claim copyright protection for match schedules, the Luxembourg-based EU court said in a ruling today. The U.K.’s Court of Appeal must make a final decision on the matter.

“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,” the EU court said in a statement on today’s ruling. “The fact that the compilation of the list required significant labor and skill on the part of its creator does not justify, in itself, it being protected by copyright.”

Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, California, and a number of betting companies that want to access the information, are at loggerheads with the soccer leagues over whether their lists’ data is protected by copyright. While Yahoo’s U.K. unit argued the data isn’t protected and can be published without payment, the English and Scottish leagues said they own the rights to the data on the annual fixture lists and can charge for its use.

“It is pretty clear that the bar has been set high and that football fixture lists are unlikely to qualify” for copyright protection, Tony Ballard, a lawyer at Harbottle & Lewis LLP in London, said in an e-mailed statement. “Those who compile these lists, and other lists like them such as program schedules, will find it difficult to control or charge fees to those who use the data to provide news and information in print or online.”

Court of Appeal

A London court in 2010 ruled the data is protected by copyright under the EU’s database law. The case is now pending at the Court of Appeal in London, which last year referred the case to the EU tribunal for guidance.

Yahoo “considers the judgment a whole-hearted endorsement of its position that there is no copyright in football fixture lists,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Yahoo “looks forward” to the U.K. court hearing “so that the football leagues claims to a de-facto monopoly over this information can finally be put to rest,” it said.

Football DataCo, which is responsible for the Premier League and Football League fixture lists, is “confident” the U.K. court will uphold database protection for the match listings, “which provide much-needed revenue at all levels of the professional game,” David Folker, the company’s general manager, said in an e-mail.

Copyright Claims

The European Gaming and Betting Association, a group which represents Unibet Group Plc and Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc, said the ruling “puts an end” to Football DataCo’s copyright claims on fixture lists used by a number of media companies and betting companies.

The case is: C-604/10, Football DataCo Limited, Football Association Premier League Ltd, Football League Limited, Scottish Premier League Limited, Scottish Football League, PA Sport UK Limited v. Yahoo UK Limited, Stan James (Abingdon) Limited, Stan James Plc, Enetpulse APS.

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