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Saudi Arabia rejects Wimbledon piracy claims

July 9, 2018

By Colin Mann

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Media has rejected as “baseless” accusations made by The Championships, Wimbledon regarding the broadcast pirate entity known as beoutQ. “Wimbledon’s press release baselessly claims that beoutQ is based in Saudi Arabia and suggests that Saudi Arabia is somehow complicit in beoutQ’s broadcasts,” says the Ministry.

The response follows a call from world tennis’s governing bodies calls to end illegal piracy operations in Saudi Arabia immediately, joining forces to condemn publicly and call for the immediate closure of beoutQ.

“Over the past year, a whole variety of world tennis content has been illegally broadcast across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by a pirate television channel called beoutQ, which in turn distributes the content on the Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat, without any rights whatsoever to do so,” they said their release. “The united voice of condemnation from world tennis joins the chorus of other world sports organisations that have been calling for Arabsat to stop facilitating the mass-scale piracy and for decisive action to be taken to stamp out beoutQ,” they declared.

beIN MEDIA GROUP is the exclusive rights holder in the MENA region of major tennis tournaments, which are owned, operated, sanctioned or their rights sold by organisations across world tennis including the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the ATP World Tour, ATP Media, the Women’s Tennis Association, the United States Tennis Association, the French Tennis Federation, Tennis Australia; and it represents the global rights to the International Tennis Federation. It is these leading tennis organisations, extending to all four corners of world tennis, that have come together to denounce beoutQ.

According to the bodies. over the past 12 months, beoutQ has been “brazenly” stealing the broadcast feeds of international tennis tournaments and distributing them illegally on Arabsat. The premium sports content is then viewable on illegal beoutQ boxsets and online, in many cases for free across MENA. “This mass-theft of tennis TV rights has prompted the world tennis organisations to come together to condemn and call for an immediate end to the illegal exploitation of its intellectual property,” they stated.

“Industrial-scale illegal piracy of this nature is of great concern as it risks significantly damaging the value of the commercial broadcast rights that tennis governing bodies and rights holders around the world rely on to fund the sport at a professional and amateur level. However, tennis is just one sport that is suffering at the hands of the piracy. Both FIFA and UEFA have issued statements in recent weeks denouncing beoutQ, joined by further condemnation from other sports, major broadcasters and rights holders around the world who have also had broadcast feeds and content stolen,” they noted.

They suggested that the case of beoutQ is especially troubling because of the unparalleled sophistication and the extensive period of time over which the commercial-scale theft has been allowed to continue.

“Wimbledon is a brand beloved by millions and the protection of our copyright is of the utmost importance to us,” commented Richard Lewis, Chief Executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. “In MENA, the right to broadcast The Championships is exclusive to beIN SPORTS. We take the copyright infringement by beoutQ extremely seriously, and, alongside the other tennis governing bodies, we offer our support to beIN SPORTS as we look to protect our broadcast rights in the region.”

“Broadcast rights are a primary source of funding for the future of tennis and are vital in helping the ITF and its member nations create the champions of tomorrow,” explained David Haggerty, President of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). “As a global partner of beIN MEDIA GROUP, we request that the Saudi Arabian government and authorities use all their powers to close down beoutQ and to stop Arabsat from carrying this illegal broadcast of tennis’ intellectual property.”

“The protection of our broadcast rights is critical to the health of our sport,” asserted Chris Kermode, ATP Executive Chairman & President. “beoutQ is a pirate service which has not been granted any rights, via ATP or ATP Media (as the official broadcast arm of the ATP Tour), to broadcast any ATP World Tour content whatsoever – those rights belong to beIN MEDIA GROUP in the MENA region. ATP and ATP Media take copyright infringement extremely seriously and we stand firmly alongside beIN MEDIA GROUP as we look to protect our broadcast rights in the region.”

The Ministry of Media statement said it had become aware of inaccurate — and irresponsible — accusations made by Wimbledon, suggesting that Wimbledon’s press release baselessly claims that beoutQ is based in Saudi Arabia and suggests that Saudi Arabia is somehow complicit in beoutQ’s broadcasts. “Wimbledon’s allegations parrot those emanating from Al Jazeera Media Network and its subsidiary beIN Sports (Al Jazeera), Wimbledon’s exclusive licensee in MENA. The Ministry rejects these allegations in the strongest possible terms,” it declared.

According to the Ministry, Wimbledon’s press release alleges that beoutQ is an “illegal Saudi Arabian-based piracy operation,” but cites no sources or evidence for that allegation. “The Ministry is aware of no such evidence. The Ministry understands that beoutQ’s set-top boxes are available in many places, including Qatar and perhaps Eastern Europe. beoutQ touts itself as based in either Cuba or Colombia. Al Jazeera has long been banned from broadcasting in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and is the most recognisable company in Qatar. Given the current diplomatic impasse between Qatar and numerous Arab nations, including KSA, claims emanating from Al Jazeera that beoutQ is based in KSA are highly suspect,” it contends.

“Suggesting that KSA is in any way complicit in beoutQ’s operation both offends the Saudi people and is a malicious lie,” says the Ministry. “Through its Ministry of Commerce and Investment, KSA has relentlessly combatted beoutQ’s activities within the country. For instance, the Ministry of Commerce has seized thousands of set-top boxes that would otherwise be used to violate intellectual property (IP) in KSA. The Government of Saudi Arabia is and will remain devoted to protecting IP rights within the country,” it confirms.

“Wimbledon’s suggestion that Arabsat is facilitating or otherwise turning a blind eye to beoutQ’s operations is simply more Al Jazeera propaganda,” it argues. “While Arabsat has its headquarters in Riyadh, it is not controlled by the KSA government all. Arabsat is a quasi-governmental entity of the Arab League, established by 22 of its members. While Al Jazeera has repeatedly accused Arabsat in the media of facilitating beoutQ’s transmissions, to date Al Jazeera has provided no credible evidence that it has done so. To the contrary, Al Jazeera repeatedly points to the ‘unparalleled sophistication’ with which beoutQ has easily overcome Al Jazeera’s and beIN Sports’ state-of-the-art anti-piracy technology. Blaming Arabsat for beoutQ’s sophisticated piracy is misplaced in the extreme,” it suggests.

“Finally, Wimbledon’s press release includes various statements of solidarity with Al Jazeera subsidiaries beIN Sports or the beIN Media Group. These statements are virtually identical to statements promulgated by Al Jazeera as part of its irresponsible smear media campaign against KSA. We are disappointed that representatives of credible tennis associations are being used in the Wimbledon press release as mouthpieces by Al Jazeera. For example, US Tennis Association representative Katrina Adams referred to beIN Media Group as a ‘key strategic partner”. Wimbledon and the various tennis associations quoted in the press release know or should know that, beginning in June 2017, the KSA government banned all broadcasts by Al Jazeera and its affiliates within KSA because Al Jazeera is a media platform for terrorists to propagate their violent messages and to promote instability in the region. For example, Al Jazeera regularly hosts on its programmes a well-known cleric who advocates suicide bombing and the killing of policemen,” it notes.

“Al Jazeera’s response to the ban has been to escalate a political campaign against KSA. It has used beIN Sports’s 2018 FIFA World Cup broadcasts to defame KSA, the Saudi Arabian football federation and national team. For these reasons Al Jazeera, beIN Sports and their affiliates will never again broadcast in KSA. Given Al Jazeera’s known role in supporting terrorism and its inability to provide any media content in Saudi Arabian territory, the Ministry urges Wimbledon and the tennis associations to end their relationships with beIN Sports and other Al Jazeera entities,” it concludes.

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