US puts Saudi Arabia on ‘watch list’ over beoutQ copyright theft

By Paul Nicholson

April 26 – Saudi Arabia has been put on a ‘Priority Watch List’ by the US and in the UK questions were asked in the Houses of Parliament over the industrial scale copyright theft by Saudi-based pirate broadcaster beoutQ.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the US agency responsible for trade policy, published two reports, both condemning the beoutQ piracy, and highlighting the Saudi activity as one of the biggest global threats to intellectual property.

In the 2019 Special 301 Report, USTR placed Saudi Arabia on its ‘Priority Watch List’ alongside China, Indonesia, Russia, and Venezuela as the world’s worst enforcers of global copyright conventions.

The report highlighted beoutQ saying: “BeoutQ, an illicit service for pirated content whose signal is reportedly carried by Saudi Arabia-based satellite provider Arabsat, continues to be widely available in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East and Europe. While Saudi officials have confirmed the illegal nature of BeoutQ’s activities and claim to be addressing this issue by seizing BeoutQ set-top boxes, such devices nevertheless continue to be widely available and are generally unregulated in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia also has not taken sufficient steps to address the purported role of Arabsat in facilitating BeoutQ’s piracy activities.”

The scale of the issue is further shown in the newly released ‘2018 Notorious Markets List’, which also blacklists Saudi Arabia, saying: “BeoutQ is an example of a single entity pirating content in multiple ways. It is suspected of satellite and online piracy, as well as supporting piracy devices and related services such as apps and illicit streaming devices (ISDs) that allow access to unlicensed movies and television productions, including sports events…USTR strongly urges trading partners to report and take effective action against piracy facilitated by apps, ISDs, and satellite signals.”

A USTR official spoke of the importance of intellectual property rights to the US economy, saying that it supported 45.5 million jobs and about 30% of the US Gross domestic product.

In the UK Parliament, Alistair Carmichael MP, formerly the Secretary of State for Scotland, brought up the question of the intellectual property stolen by beoutQ and asked Government: “What steps are we taking to protect the intellectual property rights of UK businesses and sports interests, and will we use our trade policy to hold to account countries such as Saudi Arabia that are allowing the theft of our country’s intellectual property in that way?”

He added: “The Government have got to challenge their friends in Saudi Arabia and get them to take more action to protect the future of the sports and entertainment industries, and ensure that the football teams which we all love can continue to thrive.”

George Hollingbery, the UK Government Minister of State for Trade Policy, promised that the UK Government would “continue to make representations to Saudi Arabia on that point”.

Today is World Intellectual Property Day. It is probably not a date resepcted in the Saudi Arabia calendar as the country continues to behave as one of the world’s worst global citizens in protecting the copyright and work of others worldwide. The destabilising effect on rights values within the Middle Easter region where beoutQ is most active will undoubtedly have a huge impact on prices being achieved.

However, there is a global creep of beoutQ’s activity, especially via rebroadcast of its already pirated signals.

To date the sports authorities have failed to protect their rights holders which will logically in turn mean they will likely fail to protect their broadcast revenue streams. While intellectual property has become a geo-political casualty of the Saudi vs Qatar stand-off, that the battle is now being publicly taken up by governments to protect their own industries potentially marks a new stage in the conflict.

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