A Geneva trade official said the WTO had agreed “to establish a panel to rule on Saudi Arabia’s alleged failure to provide adequate protection of intellectual property rights”.
Qatar launched the dispute in October, saying Saudi Arabia was blocking beIN and refusing to take effective action against alleged piracy of beIN’s content by beoutQ, a TV pirating operation.
Sophie Jordan, Executive Director of Legal Affairs and General Legal Counsel of beIN Media Group, welcomed the action by the WTO: “We are pleased to see that the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body has agreed to establish a panel in the dispute being brought against Saudi Arabia’s failure to protect intellectual property rights, including those of beIN Media Group and our licensors.
“Quite simply, this is about the international rule of law – beoutQ has been committing a completely unprecedented and brazen theft of intellectual property over the past 18 months – affecting rights holders, broadcasters, movie studios and other stakeholders across the world of sports and entertainment. Those responsible for this Saudi-based pirate operation must be held to account. No one can be above the law.
“Separate to the WTO case, beIN Media Group is bringing our own $1 billion international investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia in relation to beoutQ, which is the only known investment arbitration ever to be brought in connection with State-supported illegal broadcast piracy. We have high confidence in obtaining a successful award, and remain absolutely committed to pursuing all available legal remedies to protect our rights and to bring an end to beoutQ’s devastating piracy of the sports and entertainment industry.”
Saudi Arabia this month sought to block the case from being accepted, arguing that because of vital security interests tied to its boycott of Qatar, the trade dispute body could not hear the case.
BeoutQ was launched shortly after the boycott and has illegally broadcasted World Cup soccer matches as well as Hollywood entertainment. According to BeIN, beoutQ is based in Saudi Arabia. In August, digital security and technology companies Cisco Systems, Nagra and Overon all confirmed with technical evidence that proves beyond any doubt the involvement of Riyadh-based Arabsat.
Evidence placing beoutQ operating from Saudi Arabia include the validation of satellite subscriptions from a Saudi IP address; subscriptions priced in Saudi riyals only; and its channels carry advertising for numerous Saudi brands. beoutQ on its own social media channel lists the specific Arabsat frequencies on which it is available.
Qatar’s representative to the WTO welcomed the decision to hear the case and said that “legal experts have found no basis for using the pretext of national security to cover up crimes of IP rights piracy.”
Since October 2017, the beoutQ pirates have been selling subscriptions to ten satellite channels carrying premium live sports content stolen from beIN and other broadcasters. beoutQ set-top boxes are being openly sold in retail outlets across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other countries, and the packaging and promotional materials for the set-top boxes explicitly advertise the availability of pirated premium sports content.