17 September 2019CopyrightSarah Morgan

Saudi-based Arabsat enabling beoutQ piracy: UEFA report

World football authorities claim to have proof that Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat is enabling pirate broadcaster beoutQ to operate, as they call on Saudi Arabian satellite providers to stop “providing a platform for piracy”.

Yesterday, September 16, a report published by brand protection firm MarkMonitor concluded “without question” that beoutQ’s pirate broadcasts have been transmitted using satellite infrastructure owned and operated by Arabsat.

Arabsat, a regional satellite operator based in Saudi Arabia whose largest shareholder is the Saudi government, has consistently denied any role in broadcasting pirate streams. Saudi officials have also rejected allegations of state involvement in beoutQ as baseless.

The MarkMonitor report, which totals 158 pages, was commissioned by football's world governing body FIFA, its confederations in Asia and Europe (AFC and Uefa), and European leagues including the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga.

According to MarkMonitor, the results of its investigation strongly support the conclusion that the beoutQ pirate service is “a highly technically sophisticated and organised operation” which is regionally targeted at the Middle East and, in particular, Saudi Arabia.

A joint statement from the football bodies added that piracy harms “not just legitimate licensees, fans and players but also the sports that it abuses” and that cutting off beoutQ’s access to transmission services would be a major step in the fight to stop the pirate broadcasts.

The football bodies have previously attempted to shut down the pirate broadcaster without success.

In August, WIPR  reported that the football authorities believed they had exhausted all legal options in Saudi Arabia after engaging with nine different law firms in Saudi Arabia over the past 15 months, none of whom were willing to represent them.

“As copyright holders we have reached the conclusion, regrettably, that it is now not possible to retain legal counsel in Saudi Arabia which is willing or able to act on our behalf in filing a copyright complaint against beoutQ,” said the group at the time.

In the latest joint statement, hosted on FIFA’s website, the football bodies said that they have received reports that beoutQ transmissions are currently disrupted.

Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, which owns the right to broadcast football matches in the region, claimed that a French court had found Arabsat to be involved in the alleged piracy operation beoutQ in June.

However, Arabsat soon hit back at beIN’s account of the ruling in a lawsuit, claiming that the Qatari company had released  “false information”. In a statement, De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés, which represented Arabsat, said that the Paris court had “completely cleared” the satellite operator of the charges levelled by beIN.

Diplomatic relations

Relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been fraught since June 2017, when several countries cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

The following year, in October 2018, Qatar’s ministry of economy and commerce accused Saudi Arabia of violating the IP rights of Qatari citizens, in a filing at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Qatar’s ministry alleged that, since the suspension of diplomatic relations, Saudi Arabia had violated Qatar’s trade rights and adversely impacted the IP rights of Qatari citizens.

Of particular concern to the ministry, Qatari company beIN Media Group was prohibited from broadcasting its content (including sports and entertainment programmes) within Saudi Arabia.

Following the ban, beoutQ reportedly started to broadcast beIN’s copyright-protected content in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia allegedly refused to take effective action to address beoutQ’s alleged IP violations.

In response, Saudi Arabia claimed that the WTO couldn’t resolve the IP dispute because of national security concerns.

But in December last year, the WTO announced that it would investigate Qatar’s allegations of IP breaches by Saudi Arabia.

WIPR has reached out to Arabsat for comment.

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