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In Qatar’s Complaint against Saudi Arabia over Measures Concerning the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights,  the WTO Disputes Panel ruled on 16 June 2020 that Saudi Arabia breached TRIPS over its extensive  promotion of, and support for, “beoutQ”, by far the largest-ever copyright-piracy operation in the field of sports broadcasting. Since 2017 beoutQ has been re-badging and re-broadcasting TV sports matches (such as the Premier League, UEFA, FIFA, La Ligua,  NBA and Wimbledon) and other sports events within seconds of their original licensed  broadcast by beIN Sports on its 10 pay-tv channels. 

The WTO ruled that, in addition to (inter alia) its support for beoutQ and its responsibility for organising big-screen broadcasts by beoutQ at some 294 public locations, Saudi Arabia had deliberately abstained from taking any meaningful steps, including criminal proceedings, to stop beoutQ’s pirate broadcasts which (the panel concluded) were being transmitted from Riyadh on Arabsat’s satellite network,  the inter-governmental satellite company based in Riyadh and which is majority-owned by Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s complaint was supported by evidence from several primary sports-rights holders, including the Premier League and FIFA.

Against the background of the current boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and several other Arab states, this is the first time in the 73-year history of the WTO (and its predecessor GATT) that a claim by a state to rely on the defence of national security under TRIPS  has been rejected. 

Stephen Nathan QC is acting as special counsel to beIN Sports.

Please find the decision here.