Qatar sees progress in WTO meetings but urges 'firm action' against beoutQ
The government of Qatar has cautiously endorsed proceedings to date in meetings with the World Trade Organisation, which is considering the impact of piracy of sports coverage by beoutQ, the Saudi Arabia-based network.
However, the government is pressing for firm and prompt action to be taken against beoutQ before the operation is able to “destroy the global sports and entertainment market.”
The WTO, which is based in Geneva, established a dispute settlement panel to adjudicate on the case brought by Qatar’s ministry of commerce and industry on behalf of BeIN Sports, the Doha-based international sports broadcaster most affected by the piracy.
Saudi Arabia is accused of failing to protect intellectual property rights consistent with the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) by supporting beoutQ in systematically pirating content owned or licensed to BeIN and broadcasting it in the country and beyond via domestic satellite provider Arabsat.
The Qatar government is describing it as “the most widespread piracy operation that the world has ever seen,” and the unauthorised broadcasts have prompted concerted legal action from BeIN and sports rights-holders around the world.
The latest rights-holders to be affected include the Confederation of African Football, relating to piracy of BeIN coverage of the Africa Cup of Nations presently taking place in Egypt, and South America’s Conmebol, which recently organised the Copa America in Brazil, while it is claimed that every match at the now-completed Fifa Women’s World Cup in France was pirated by beoutQ and distributed by Arabsat, prompting legal moves by soccer’s international governing body.
Following two days of meetings in Geneva, the Qatari government has issued a statement which reads: “Qatar’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry has welcomed the significant progress in Qatar’s dispute settlement proceedings against Saudi Arabia in the World Trade Organisation (“WTO”), but warns that firm action must be taken quickly against “beoutQ” and Arabsat before the Saudi-based pirate operation and Riyadh-headquartered satellite provider destroy the global sports and entertainment market.”
It added: “Contrary to its obligations under the TRIPS Agreement, Saudi Arabia refuses to take any effective action against beoutQ, and prevents beIN and other impacted rights holders from bringing their own enforcement action before the Saudi courts. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has denounced beIN’s requests to investigate and prevent the pirate’s unauthorised broadcasts, and has actually promoted public screenings of beoutQ’s unauthorised broadcasts. None of these actions is compatible with Saudi Arabia’s obligations as a member in the WTO.
“During the WTO meetings, Qatar pointed out that there is simply no plausible connection between Saudi Arabia’s support for the beoutQ pirate and any security concern alleged by Saudi Arabia. Rather than protecting security interests, Saudi Arabia attempts to abuse the WTO’s national security defense for commercial reasons.”
The Qatari government stressed that it explained to the WTO panel that in April the US government published two reports that called for an end to beoutQ and placed Saudi Arabia on the ‘priority watch list’ for its failure to address IP concerns, and that in May, in the UK’s House of Commons, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee had condemned the theft of IP from UK sports and entertainment companies, with secretary of state Jeremy Wright confirming that various government departments and the UK embassy in Riyadh had taken up the matter with the Saudis.
A further set of meetings and additional written submissions by the parties are expected before the panel issues a ruling in the coming months.
Last month, BeIN Media Group blamed the bitter dispute over piracy of its sports channels for a decision to lay off some of its staff, understood to total about 300 people, or about 20 per cent of the workforce, in Doha.
That came after BeIN had claimed a decision by the Tribunal de Grande Instance, Paris’ High Court, as a major victory in its battle against beoutQ, only to be directly contradicted by Arabsat, which was BeIN’s opponent in court.
BeIN has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia of supporting beoutQ’s piracy operations, and argued that the ruling established that Arabsat has been carrying beoutQ’s broadcasts, contrary to Arabsat’s denials.
However, Arabsat claimed that it had, in fact, won the case, and said that it “reserves the right to take legal action against BeIN” over an alleged “media smear campaign,” involving “bogus and misleading claims.”
• Illegal online streaming of matches in English soccer’s Premier League is costing clubs and brands up to £1 million ($1.25 million) per match in lost sponsorship value, according to a new report.
The study conducted by international sponsorship valuation firm GumGum Sports and UK-based digital piracy tracker MUSO, carried out at the behest of an unnamed Premier League club focused on eight matches in the 2018-19 season, each of which drew an audience of 7.1 million fans across 149 countries.
It found that the largest piracy audience was in China, ahead of Vietnam, Kenya, India and Nigeria. USA and the UK ranked 10th and 11th, respectively.
The £1-million figure derived from calculating the size of the piracy audience and analysing the on-screen exposure and duration of perimeter and kit sponsorship placements, and producing global media equivalences for the live coverage to calculate media value per nation.
Brian Kim, the general manager of GumGum Sports claimed this is the first time that clubs and sponsors have been able to quantify media exposure from unauthorised streaming which “over the years amounts to billions of dollars in unrealised value.”
He added: “Now we have a unique data set that gives an advantage to brand sponsors while also enabling clubs to better demonstrate the value they’re driving on behalf of corporate partners.”
MUSO co-founder and chief executive Andy Chatterley added: “Piracy audiences have too long been disregarded as offering no real value to rights holders and distributors, but the reality is that these huge audiences still see the same shirt sponsors and commercials as people watching the game via a licensed channel.
“Sports rights owners are now waking up to the fact that they are leaving sponsorship money on the table by not measuring, understanding and gaining insight from the piracy audience - and we’re looking forward to continuing our work with GumGum to change the perception of piracy audiences’ value.”