17 June 2020CopyrightRory O'Neill

Saudi Arabia breached TRIPS over beoutQ, WTO finds

Saudi Arabia blocked Qatari broadcaster  beIN Media from enforcing its IP and enabled pirate sports broadcasts, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has said.

In a  highly-anticipated report published yesterday, June 16, the WTO said Saudi Arabia’s non-application of criminal sanctions to pirate broadcaster beoutQ could not be justified on national security grounds. The report also concluded that Saudi Arabia had not met its obligations under the TRIPS Agreement.

In its defence, Saudi Arabia cited the “emergency in international relations” with Qatar, and its policy of ending contact with Qatari nationals. On that basis, the Kingdom argued that its actions were taken to protect its “essential security interests”.

But this argument was “so remote from” the issue of beoutQ that it did not "meet a minimum requirement of plausibility”, the WTO panel said.

The report’s findings will weigh on the English Premier League, who are evaluating a proposed takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi-backed consortium.

News of the takeover raised questions about Saudi human rights abuses, with the partner of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi accusing Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman of attempting to salvage his image with the purchase.

But concerns over Saudi’s alleged support of pirated sports broadcasts, including Premier League matches, could be just as, if not more persuasive.

The Guardian reported last month that the takeover was in “serious doubt” amid rumours of the WTO’s likely findings on the Saudi government’s failure to tackle beoutQ.

Typically of the dispute, both Qatari and Saudi governments are claiming victory in the wake of the report’s publication.

Saudi Arabia claimed that the WTO found the Kingdom’s national security defence to be “justified”.

The WTO did conclude that Saudi Arabia was entitled to block beIN from procuring independent legal counsel in the Kingdom on national security grounds.

But this defence was not valid in relation to the failure to apply criminal sanctions to beoutQ, the panel said.

Lawyers from Sidney Austin law firm, who advised the Qatari government at the WTO, welcomed the panel’s findings.

“This historic result marks the first time in the 73-year history of multilateral trade rules that a WTO panel has rejected a party’s national security defence,” said Iain Sandford, partner at the firm.

“Today’s unprecedented decision shows how a state that is determined to play by the rules can use international adjudication to ensure that others do the same,” he added.

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31 July 2020   The failure of Saudi Arabia’s proposed takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United has been hailed as a “massive day for the protection of IP rights”.
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