Saudi Arabia has been named in a European commission report for its failure to crack down on a homegrown pirate TV and streaming service that reportedly provides illegal access to prime content including Premier League football internationally.
The report has emerged at a highly sensitive time for Mike Ashley, the owner of Newcastle United, who is attempting to sell the Premier League club in a potential £340m deal led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s investment vehicle.
The biennial report lists the 13 countries the European commission deems have the worst track record for piracy and protecting intellectual property rights that “causes considerable harm to EU businesses”.
The Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Uefa are understood to be among at least eight rights holders and broadcasters to have submitted official complaints relating to the Saudi-based pirate TV service in the consultation stage of the commission’s report.
The inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the report for the first time follows two years of calls from sports bodies – including Fifa, Uefa, Germany’s Bundesliga, La Liga and Italy’s Serie A – as well as broadcasters including the BBC, Sky and NBCUniversal for Saudi Arabia to block the pirate service. The sporting bodies have attempted to take legal action in Saudi Arabia, but nine local legal firms declined to take on the copyright case.
The report, which aims to help the European commission “focus efforts and resources” on tackling piracy, says that Saudi Arabia’s enforcement of intellectual property rights “features serious shortcomings”.
“Stakeholders report high-scale satellite and online piracy and ineffective enforcement measures to tackle them,” the report says. “An allegedly Saudi operator called BeoutQ currently makes available – without authorisation – content belonging to EU sport event organisers and EU right holders in the territory of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and North Africa as well as in the EU. Saudi Arabia has reportedly not taken sufficient steps to stop the infringement despite the fact that the satellite services of BeoutQ are being transmitted by the satellite of the partly state-owned Arabsat.”
The pirate TV service, which also provides access to illegal streaming apps, surged in popularity after making global headlines for broadcasting the entire football World Cup. The All England Lawn Tennis Club has condemned BeoutQ for illegally streaming Wimbledon worldwide for the past two years.
BeoutQ was was launched in 2017 when Saudi Arabia mounted an economic boycott of Qatar. It initially only pirated the feed of Qatar’s beIN Media, which spends $15bn (£11.5bn) on sports rights and has 55 million pay-TV customers worldwide, as part of a wider political dispute.
Saudi Arabia is named as a “priority 3” country, which places it below countries including China and Russia which are ranked as “priority 1” and “priority 2” level infringers, although the European commission says any nation appearing on its list is causing considerable harm to businesses across Europe.
“Infringements of intellectual property, including piracy, threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs in the EU every year,” said Phil Hogan, the EU trade commissioner. “The information gathered in the report will enable us to become even more efficient in protecting EU firms and workers against intellectual property infringements like counterfeiting or copyright piracy.”
Yousef al-Obaidly, the chief executive of beIN Media Group, said: “The European commission’s latest report adds to the chorus of voices calling on Saudi Arabia to follow the most basic international norm – that is to uphold the rule of law.”