By Paul Nicholson
June 15 – It would not be a major football tournament these days if it wasn’t being stolen for television by a Saudi-based broadcaster. The country that doesn’t allow women in its stadiums is nevertheless taking the women’s World Cup so seriously that it is allowing the piracy of every game from France 2019 on the beoutQ channels.
The signals are being stolen from Qatari-owned rightsholder beIN Sports that on Friday won a ruling in a French court established that Arabsat – the Saudi-headquartered regional satellite provider – is distributing beoutQ on its satellites.
Arabsat has denied for two years that it has been carrying beoutQ’s pirate broadcasts, despite digital security and technology companies Cisco Systems, NAGRA and Overon, providing evidence to the contrary. Now a European court has rubber-stamped the evidence, not that there was ever any real doubt.
This now throws pressure back on to the governing bodies that are having their broadcast rights stolen to take action against the Saudis – ultimately the only sanction the Saudis are likely to take notice of would be a suspension of their national and club teams from international competition. There is no clear FIFA statute that takes this situation into account, though there are plenty that cover causing damage to the sport and FIFA partners – which the Saudi piracy is clearly doing.
FIFA, who sat and watched as every game of the Russia 2018 World Cup was stolen by beoutQ and whose broadcasts then began to proliferate globally, issued a statement at the weekend that it was in contact with Arabsat regarding the protection of its intellectual property and that legal avenues were being explored.
“FIFA is aware that unauthorised transmissions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 are being made available across the MENA region, primarily Saudi Arabia, via the pirate broadcaster known as beoutQ,” said the statement.
“beoutQ’s unauthorised transmissions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 are made available by way of Arabsat satellite frequencies. FIFA is therefore seeking the cooperation of Arabsat in addressing the misuse of FIFA’s intellectual property.
“In addition, FIFA continues to explore each of its legal options as a means to address beoutQ’s unauthorised broadcasts. In this regard, FIFA is working with a number of other rights holders whose rights have also been infringed by beoutQ.”
It is the toughest statement yet by FIFA who are understandably reluctant to be dragged into the middle of what has become a political powerplay between the Saudis and the Qataris. Both the Saudis and Qataris argue that it is about TV rights deals, IP and legal authority, but ultimately it is their national conflict being played out in the broadcast rights arena.
Commenting on the ruling in France, Yousef Al-Obaidly, CEO of beIN MEDIA GROUP said: “This latest legal ruling in France shows that even if we are illegally denied access to justice in Saudi Arabia, we will use every means possible to hold beoutQ and Arabsat to account for their daily theft of rights-holders’ intellectual property. But we are not fighting this battle alone – the weight of the international community is now firmly coming to bear on Saudi Arabia to end its safe haven for piracy, which is destroying not only the economic model of the global sports and entertainment industry, but the livelihoods of content creators all around the world.”
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