Saudi Arabia criticised by European Commission over BeoutQ inaction

Saudi Arabia criticised by European Commission over BeoutQ inaction
The European Commission (EC) has called out Saudi Arabia for failing to take ‘sufficient steps’ to crack down on state-backed piracy operation BeoutQ.

The report lists Saudi Arabia among 13 priority countries ‘causing considerable harm to EU businesses’ due to a failure to take action against piracy and protect intellectual property.

Several rights holders and broadcasters from across European sport issued complaints relating to BeoutQ and Saudi Arabia during the consultation stage of the EC’s report.

BeoutQ, which was initially available via Riyadh-based Arabsat and has been in operation for over two years, has illegally broadcast live coverage from some of Europe’s most premium soccer competitions, including England’s Premier League, Spain’s LaLiga and the UEFA Champions League, the elite European club tournament. It has also shown events ranging from the Wimbledon tennis grand slam to Formula One Grand Prix.

Last year, eight leading soccer bodies called on authorities in Saudi Arabia to help bring an end to BeoutQ after being frustrated in their efforts to secure legal representation in the country, with nine law firms in the country opting not to act on their behalf.

The EC report said: ‘Saudi Arabia was selected because of its global role as a regional transit country for counterfeit and pirated goods destined for the EU, and because stakeholders report high-scale satellite and online piracy and ineffective enforcement measures to tackle them.

‘BeoutQ makes available – without authorisation – content belonging to EU sport event organisers and EU rights holders (authors and related rights holders) in the territory of Saudi Arabia, in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in the EU.’

BeoutQ has not been distributed over satellite since August, but its boxes are still in circulation both in Saudi Arabia and further afield.

Qatar-based pay-TV broadcaster BeIN Sports has been the biggest target for BeoutQ, claiming in October 2018 that the pirate operation had caused it US$1 billion in damages.

Commenting on the report, BeIN Chief Executive Yousef Al-Obaidly said: “The European Commission’s latest report adds to the existing calls (including at the highest levels of the US and UK governments) calling on Saudi Arabia to uphold the rule of law. As the biggest buyer of media rights in world sport, this is nothing to do with politics - it’s commercial theft, plain and simple.

“We are not rallying against Saudi Arabia, we are rallying against any nation, company or individual who steals sports content. Even today after over two years, the only way to watch most premium international sport in Saudi Arabia is via illegal means. The only message this sends to international broadcasters and rights holders around the world is that you cannot monetise or protect your IP in Saudi Arabia.”

The EC’s Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, added: “Protecting intellectual property is critical for the EU’s economic growth and our ability to encourage innovation and stay competitive globally. As much as 82 per cent of all EU exports is generated by sectors which depend on intellectual property. Infringements of intellectual property, including piracy, threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs in the EU every year.”

The report listed Saudi Arabia as a priority three country alongside Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia, Nigeria and Thailand. Among the priority two countries were India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, while China is the only country in the priority one category.

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