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WTO: Saudi state backed beoutQ piracy

June 17, 2020

By Colin Mann

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled that the Government of Saudi Arabia has actively promoted and supported the beoutQ pirate operation since the beginning.

The WTO’s final judgement – published on June 16th 2020 – declares  Saudi Arabia has wholly breached, and is breaching, its obligations under international law to protect intellectual property rights. The WTO ruling calls upon Saudi Arabia to bring itself into compliance with its international law obligations immediately.

The Premier League, FIFA, UEFA, LaLiga, and the Bundesliga sports bodies were among organisations making declarations directly against Saudi Arabia.

Among the WTO’s findings were that the Saudi State actively promoted and supported beoutQ from the beginning and even sponsored multiple public gatherings with beoutQ screenings, including during the FIFA World Cup 2018 when the Saudi Government announced 294 public display screenings allocated across the 13 regions of Saudi Arabia broadcasting beoutQ; and that the Saudi State took no action whatsoever against beoutQ over the course of three years. It also deemed that Saudi government officials and entities publicly promoted beoutQ from the beginning including with ‘governmental’ tweets.

The WTO found that beoutQ was hosted on frequencies transmitted by satellite provider Arabsat, and endorsed a 2019 French court decision which definitively ruled that Arabsat carried beoutQ.

Based on a range of factual findings, the WTO ruled that Saudi Arabia is in complete breach of international law, including its international treaty obligations. Accordingly, the WTO has called on Saudi Arabia to “bring its measures into conformity” with those obligations, finding it to be in breach of Article 42 and Article 41.1 of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), by preventing beIN from taking civil action against copyright infringement in Saudi Arabia, as well as in breach of Article 61 of the TRIPS Agreement by refusing to take any criminal action against beoutQ, despite being operated by individuals or entities under the criminal jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia, and despite an abundance of evidence being provided to the Saudi authorities by The Premier League, FIFA, UEFA and many other rights holders.

“Today’s WTO ruling is a historic vindication of intellectual property rights,” declared Stephen Nathan QC, Blackstone Chambers, counsel for beIN Media Group. “The decision is founded on rules that 164 nations have agreed to apply. The WTO has established that, since 2017, the Saudi government has played a central role in enabling and promoting beoutQ’s theft of world sport and entertainment – the most widespread and damaging piracy operations that the world has ever seen. Saudi Arabia’s breach of international law is clearly established; the damage to the Premier League, other rights-holders and broadcasters has been colossal and it has been brought about by Saudi Arabia’s promotion and support for the beoutQ piracy, coupled with its abstention from taking any meaningful steps to stamp it out as the WTO panel has held.”

“In addition to the WTO ruling, the US Government, the UK Government and the European Commission have all recognised how beoutQ’s legacy and damage to world sport continues today,” noted David Sugden, Senior Legal Counsel & Director of Corporate Affairs, beIN Media Group. “Millions of IPTV-enabled beoutQ and other illegal boxes remain in circulation; the legal cases of the Premier League, FIFA, UEFA and others against beoutQ have been deliberately blocked by the Saudi Government; international media rights values have been destroyed; and, as a result of the Saudi government’s actions, the only way for tens of millions of Saudi sports fans to watch most major international sport – including Newcastle United matches – is via illegal means. Sport cannot grow while Saudi Arabia continues to promote the theft of sports rights and ignore the international rule of law – hopefully one day that will change, for the benefit of everyone.”

“Qatar, and international rights holders, have scored a resounding victory today,” stated Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari, Qatar’s minister of commerce and industry. “We expect Saudi Arabia, especially since it is hosting the upcoming G20, to respect this decisive ruling and end the theft and piracy of IP rights at once. They can start by heeding the WTO’s ruling and conducting a fair, timely, and transparent legal proceeding against the perpetrators in order to stop this abuse post haste.”

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