KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The World Trade Organisation has blamed the Saudi Arabian state for aiding and abetting television sports piracy of major events such as the World Cup, elite European football including the English Premier League and top tennis events.

A much-leaked and long-awaited report from a WTO order ruled Saudi Arabia had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute pirate broadcaster boutQ in the three-year campaign against Qatar, one of its Gulf neighbours.

Qatar filed a complaint in 2018, saying Saudi Arabia was blocking Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom and refusing to take effective action against alleged piracy of beIN’s content by beoutQ – the clue was clearly in the name.

The three-person WTO panel ruled that Saudi Arabia’s failure to act against beoutQ was a breach of WTO rules and recommended that Riyadh bring its measures into conformity with its obligations under the TRIPS Agreement on intellectual property.

Under the agreement, countries need to allow for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied in cases of commercial-scale copyright piracy.

The panel said that the excuse of national security could not excuse Saudi Arabia from its failure to prosecute beoutQ.

Qatar’s commerce ministry described the ruling as a “resounding victory” and said that Saudi Arabia needed to respect the rights of high profile sports and entertainment.

Saudi Arabia’s WTO mission refuted that claim, saying: “Saudi Arabia has a strong record of protecting intellectual property and is committed to applying its national law and procedures in full conformity with WTO rules.”

Plainly, this is the one core action it has failed to take.

The ruling could compromise a £300m Saudi bid to buy control of the Premier League club Newcastle United.

Last year the Premier League, which is reviewing the bid, attempted to launch legal action against beoutQ over what it said at the time was “highly organised and sophisticated illegal broadcast piracy.”

BeoutQ is widely available in Saudi Arabia via the state-based Arabsat channel.

World federation FIFA and European governing body UEFA both welcomed the ruling.

UEFA said: “What is clear is that beoutQ’s broadcasts constitute piracy of UEFA’s matches and as such, are illegal.”

The WTO ruling stated that the Geneva body considered evidence from UEFA, global soccer body FIFA, Spain’s La Liga and Britain’s Premier League in reaching its conclusions.

FIFA statement:

FIFA acknowledges the final panel report published by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in relation to the activity of the pirate broadcaster known as ‘beoutQ’ and the active involvement and support that has been provided by Saudi Arabia (KSA) in the past three years.

FIFA agrees with the WTO panel’s recommendations and demands that KSA takes the necessary steps in order that it conforms to its obligations under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement with immediate effect in order to protect legitimate media rights partners, such as BeIN, and also football itself. The WTO panel’s recommendations are clear and piracy of football matches is an illegal activity and will not be tolerated on any level.

FIFA takes infringements of its intellectual property very seriously and is working in close partnership with FIFA licensees globally to combat such issues including illegal streaming and unauthorised broadcasts. FIFA will continue to collaborate with its various partners to minimise issues relating to the infringement of its rights both in the MENA region and globally.

UEFA statement:

UEFA has responded to a World Trade Organisation report published today by reiterating its commitment to fighting audio-visual piracy.

“UEFA welcomes the World Trade Organisation report and its conclusions. What is clear is that beoutQ’s broadcasts constitute piracy of UEFA’s matches and as such, are illegal.

BeoutQ was hosted on frequencies transmitted by Arabsat and was promoted and carried out by individuals and entities subject to Saudi Arabia’s territorial jurisdiction.

Those seeking to follow beoutQ’s example should be in no doubt that UEFA will go to great lengths to protect its property and support its partners, whose investment in football helps it to remain the world’s most popular sport from grassroots to elite level. Piracy not only threatens that investment but also the existence of professional sport as we know it.

Today’s ruling shows clearly that no-one involved in audio-visual piracy should consider themselves above the rule of law.”