Saudis lose first round of beoutQ battle at WTO after EU and China speak against

By Paul Nicholson

December 19 –  The European Union, China and Canada all spoke out in support of Qatar’s case against Saudi Arabia at a World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting today discussing the beoutQ piracy of broadcast programming. All three backed the contention that Qatar had the right to pursue protection of the intellectual copyright through the organisation.

Surprisingly the US, the centre of the world’s TV and movie industry and arguably whose creative industries are most exposed to the piracy, spoke in favour of the Saudi position. The powerful creative and rights holding corporations in the US will doubtless look at their government’s lack of support for their businesses with dismay. No-one likes to have their livelihoods stolen.

Pressure has been building on the Saudi support of the pirate beoutQ satellite service through a case before the WTO by the state of Qatar. Qatar argues Saudi Arabia fails to protect IP rights, contrary to the country’s obligations under the TRIPS Agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

In the case of satellite delivered beoutQ, Saudi maintained that a WTO panel cannot review the case because it could have impact on Saudi National Security. The UAE and Bahrain supported the Saudi position while the US disingenuously passed the buck saying that their position was any member may take measures that they deem necessary for their national security.

While the US tried to steer away from the IP issues (driven presumably by other vested US interests), the Chinese said that WTO members should be able to defend these cases in the WTO and that National Security exceptions should be used with caution.

Frankly, conducting an investigation of beoutQ’s IP theft is hardly going to bring Saudi Arabia’s national security to its knees. Though removal of all the stolen movie and sports content from the Saudi consumer market could spark some civil discontent in a country which refuses to let Qatar’s beIN Sport broadcast in the country.

The outcome was the WTO has decided to elevate the case and establish a panel to review the complaints.

The Qatari case was straightforward with a diplomatic stating: “Saudi Arabia fails to protect intellectual property rights, contrary to its obligations under the TRIPS Agreement. Copyrighted media content owned by a Qatari company, beIN Corporation, is subject to widespread, wilful and commercial-scale piracy in Saudi Arabia. Yet, the Qatari company cannot seek civil remedies against the Saudi-based pirates to protect its rights, or otherwise benefit from copyright protection in Saudi Arabia.

“Moreover, Saudi Arabia has not applied criminal procedures and penalties to the pirate. Far from it.  Remarkably, Saudi authorities aid the pirate in its business of distributing stolen content, including content licensed to beIN by rights holders from around the world – including the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the 2018 Super Bowl, and many other games and events. Further, the Saudi pirate’s set-top boxes enable access to hundreds of proprietary television channels, and thousands of on-demand programs, from around the world without the authorization of the rights holders.”

Qatar pointed to the very real threat to professional sport and TV drama and movie production the Saudi Arabian action has caused, saying: “Saudi Arabia’s tolerance and support for IP theft threatens, in particular, the business model of professional sport. And its apparent conviction that its measures are immune from review undermines the foundations of international IP protection, extending far beyond copyright. “

The Qatar state case against Saudi Arabia is not the only international legal action being taken against them with beIN Spoert having brought its $1 billion action.

Sophie Jordan, Executive Director of Legal Affairs and General Legal Counsel of beIN MEDIA Group said: “We are pleased to see that the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body has agreed to establish a panel in the dispute being brought against Saudi Arabia’s failure to protect intellectual property rights, including those of beIN MEDIA GROUP and our licensors. Quite simply, this is about the international rule of law – beoutQ has been committing a completely unprecedented and brazen theft of intellectual property over the past 18 months – affecting rights holders, broadcasters, movie studios and other stakeholders across the world of sports and entertainment. Those responsible for this Saudi-based pirate operation must be held to account. No one can be above the law.”

“Separate to the WTO case, beIN MEDIA GROUP is bringing our own +US$1 billion international investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia in relation to beoutQ, which is the only known investment arbitration ever to be brought in connection with State-supported illegal broadcast piracy. We have high confidence in obtaining a successful award, and remain absolutely committed to pursuing all available legal remedies to protect our rights and to bring an end to beoutQ’s devastating piracy of the sports and entertainment industry.”

In Saudi Arabia beoutQ set top boxes are sold with a subscription to 10 ‘beoutQ’ satellite sports channels, which are broadcast on satellites operated by Riyadh-headquartered Arabsat. All content on the channels is stolen stolen and has included all the major international football competitions, as well as other major international sports, such as Tennis, NFL, NBA, Formula 1, Olympics, and WWE. Most of the content is stolen from beIN Sport though other regional broadcasters have also been targeted.

beoutQ also pirates live television, and on-demand movie content from all over the world, via internet applications. This includes ShowBox – known as the ‘Netflix of Piracy’ – which provides illegal access to more than 10,000 major international movie and television series. There is no major Hollywood studio or producer in the US spared by the piracy which also steals from other major broadcast corporations around the world.

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