NY court ruling opens Irish pay TV market

The practice of Irish sports fans paying to watch live televised games at New York City pubs could become a thing of the past thanks to Mayo-born bar owner, Eugene Rooney.

“I enjoy a good battle,” Mr Rooney told the Irish Examiner on Monday as he reflected on last week’s court victory over Premium Sports, the company run by Setanta Sports North America founder Shane O’Rourke.

Like many bar owners around the city, Rooney was required to allow Premium’s own staff charge sports fans a fee (usually $20 (€15) to enter the hosting pub, a common practice since the mid-1990s.

However, the Kiltimagh native found a way around the fee by using Slingbox, a popular device which allows consumers to watch their home television from anywhere in the world.

Premium Sports took Rooney to court but the owner of the Old Castle Pub and the Irish Pub, both of which are around the corner from each other in Midtown Manhattan, was vindicated on Thursday last by a New York district court judge in a landmark ruling.

“We respectfully disagree with the judge on this decision and we are appealing,” said O’Rourke.

“We will continue to monitor bars who steal the events we show, be it a residential broadband feed, illegal IP or Slingbox. We will continue to sue those that steal our events. But for the most part we talk to them first before we reach that stage.”

After looking at both sides of the argument, the judge decided that Rooney was not in fact stealing a transmission before it had reached its destination and was simply receiving an image after it had been screened in Ireland.

Similarly he or any bar owner would be unable to prevent a customer from watching a game on their smart phone.

The dispute was sparked when Rooney used Slingbox to transmit a Premium Sports game between Wales and Scotland in 2010 and admitted customers for free to watch.

“Eventually we were drawing such magnificent crowds that they decided to go through with the lawsuit against me,” said Rooney.

“People resented (paying for entry). I always explained to them what the situation was, that I had nothing to do with it. I was only hosting the game, Premium were the ones collecting.

“Most of the people were good about it, some kicked up a stink.

“But if it ever got out of hand, I’d take the side of the customer.

“If a family came up and the kids were 10, 11, 12 and those guys wanted $60 (€45) or $80 (€60), I’d try to help and put my hand in my own pocket.

“Not all the time but as much as I could. It was a disgrace.

“I don’t need Premium Sports.

“They need me a lot more than I need them.

“I was a cash cow for them but they got greedy.

“They went in to grab every dollar and I stopped them in their tracks.

“They resented me for it.

“They approached me because I was in a prime location. Everything was fine until the Wales v Scotland game and then all hell broke loose.”

His plan now is to continue broadcasting GAA and soccer for free using improved technology in The Old Castle.

“The only way it’s going to change is if they come up with new legislation to keep up with the developments in online communication.

“I think there’s a lot more going on in Washington DC right now than worrying about Eugene Rooney,” he added.

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