A host of US sports bodies, trade associations, and international broadcasters have demanded that their government identify Saudi Arabia as a Priority Foreign Country or it be placed on the Priority Watch List for its part in harbouring pirate broadcaster BeoutQ.
This public call to the US Government to intervene with the Saudi government to stop the theft of commercial rights from some of the most valuable brands in US sports and entertainment marks a scaling up in piracy victims’ attempts to find a solution to the BeoutQ issue.
The most detailed submission to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) was made by Qatar-based BeIN Media Group and Miramax film studio on the issue of the unabated Saudi piracy, filing 138 pages of description and evidence.
Separate submissions were made by the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance, which represents 26 leading audiovisual organisations; the Sports Coalition, on behalf of six major US sports leagues; the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the US Tennis Association (USTA); as well as international broadcasters Sky and Canal+.
Each submission to the US Government highlights that BeoutQ continues to operate its pirate operation in Saudi Arabia with the full knowledge of the Saudi government, with several submissions asserting that the Saudi Government offers a “safe haven” for piracy that has now spread across Europe and the US.
In addition, the US Chamber of Commerce and the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), a coalition of seven trade associations representing US companies that produce copyright-protected material, filed submissions in which they too noted the threat posed by BeoutQ piracy.
European rights holders have previously informed the European Commission and EU member states of the rampant piracy, requesting action. The World Trade Organisation has also established a dispute settlement panel to investigate the matter.
The USTR submission is the latest element of the proxy fight in the 19-month political and logistical boycott of Qatar by regional rivals including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
BeoutQ launched as a geo-blocked website available only in Saudi Arabia following the suspension of diplomatic relations between the country and Qatar in 2017.
The network initially targeted Qatar-backed broadcasting giant BeIN Sports, but the service has now developed into a sophisticated piracy operation, with set-top boxes available for purchase internationally providing streaming access to thousands of TV channels as well as live sport.
BeoutQ came into the spotlight during the recent Fifa World Cup when the service illegally showed the entire tournament without the rights to do so. The service is now being utilised by other pirates around the world, with reported accessibility of BeoutQ in London, Paris, Geneva and the US.
While Saudi Arabia has long denied that it is behind BeoutQ, BeIN announced in August that digital security, media solutions and technology companies Cisco Systems, Nagra and Overon had all investigated and confirmed that the piracy channel is being distributed on Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat.
In November, senior BeIN executives warned that the company would be forced to scale back on its sports broadcasting strategy if the illegal operation is not halted. An option it took recently in declining to renew its five-year contract with the Formula One motorsport series.
Considering all of the Special 301 submissions to the USTR, Saudi Arabia has equalled China as the country receiving the highest number of specific recommendations for Priority Foreign Country, Priority Watch List, or Watch List designations for 2019, with nine such recommendations for each country.
In its submission to the US Government, BeIN and Miramax said: “Saudi Arabia has permitted, and indeed facilitated, the operation within its territory of the boldest, most sophisticated pattern of broadcast piracy that the world has ever seen – piracy that continues to spread around the globe.”
Adding: “While the Saudi Government could easily put an end to the widespread piracy emanating from within its borders, it has chosen not to do so. As a result, the economic damage to BeIN, its rights holders, and the international sports and entertainment industries continues to grow each day.”