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MENA: “Virtual sat operators are supporting TV pirates”

Last week’s Arabsat-sponsored conference in Marrakesh heard some heavyweight criticism from broadcasters and industry officials regarding the deliberate – and massive – piracy of exclusive content by channels transmitting from Nilesat or Eutelsat-controlled frequencies.

While Eutelsat is leasing the majority of these frequencies to ‘virtual satellite operators’ Noorsat and GulfSat, senior executives from MBC, Rotana, ART and others complained that not enough is being done to curb these operators, and their broadcaster client, from infringements of copyright material. Nilesat is also cited (as at October 2015) as being guilty of hosting channels which breach basic copyright rules.

The acts of copyright piracy are governed by rules in many Arab countries which allow for punishment by imprisonment or fines.

Hanya Borham Atallah, copyright management director at Arab Radio & Television, and who also monitors breaches on behalf of the MENA-Anti Piracy Coalition, says that (as at October 2015) there were some 64 Arabic-language channels which were regularly infringing copyright. There were also a handful of ‘Western’ channels in breach.

Sam Barnett, CEO at MBC, was hugely critical: “Most of the satellite distributors, for example, choose not to deal with the pirates. Using these methods we have closed down 47 channels this past year. There is one satellite distributor which chooses to continue [dealing with pirate channels]. That’s their choice. It is strange that [this satellite distributor] is owned by the shareholders of the biggest pay-TV company in the Middle East. In fact I find it extraordinarily bizarre.”

Noorsat, the ‘virtual satellite operator’ in question, is run by Omar Shoter (a former CEO at Arabsat) and is owned by Mawared, which is also a shareholder in Dubai’s OSN. “All satellite providers on 7/8 degrees West carry some channels that may infringe on content, but we were the first to shut off channels and we continue to do so, however, the alleged parties put us in trouble by alleging to have copyright of material and after taking the channel off air the channel then proved in court that they have the right to broadcast! We took channels off only to find them on the same satellite through another provider and everyone is keeping quiet about it.”

Not everyone is quiet. Michel Azibert, Eutelsat’s deputy CEO, says that Eutelsat is working hard to see these problems resolved: “We have talked to [Noorsat’s CEO] Omar Shoter and his response to our numerous e-mails has been to threaten to leave the Anti-Piracy Coalition because he said they were not treating him well. He has said to us that as a member of the Coalition he will comply, and take these channels out. At least one channel has been removed, and he has promised to be tougher, but the worry from the Coalition is that some of these channels will return.”

Azibert continued: “At IBC recently, we had a Coalition meeting, where our legal counsel was present, and it was agreed that Eutelsat would set up a process where we received official notice of an infringement. We would then notify the service provider, whether Noorsat or another, that they should stop transmitting. We have another meeting in a few weeks to consider the options available. One of the challenges is that we must not create collateral damage by switching off channels (from within a multiplex) which are not involved in the piracy disputes.”

Pay-TV broadcaster OSN is one of the broadcasters directly affected by piracy, and is part-owned by the Mawared Group which directly owns Noorsat. A statement from OSN says: “TV piracy is a serious issue that impacts all stakeholders and causes heavy losses to the industry and the economy. OSN has been spearheading anti-piracy efforts with the support of all key industry stakeholders. The committed efforts of the Anti-Piracy Coalition has helped us in achieving significant results with both the cessation of illegal TV services and raids conducted in several locations to stem the sales of illegal platforms. We will continue to step up our efforts against TV piracy.”

OSN declined to comment on the activities of its shareholder.



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