The beIN Corporation has launched an international investment arbitration against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for damages totalling more than S$1 billion, having been unlawfully driven out of the Saudi market and subjected to widespread piracy of sports broadcasting.
According to the BeIn Media Group this case is the only known investment arbitration ever to be brought in connection with state-supported illegal broadcast piracy” “The arbitration is being commenced following universal public condemnation of the Saudi-based pirate TV channel beoutQ which – in tandem with Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat – has orchestrated a plague of piracy on world sports and entertainment over the past year.”
Following the suspension of diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017, Saudi Arabia initiated a series of measures specifically including revoking beIN’s legal right to operate in the jurisdiction; prohibiting the broadcast of beIN channels; banning the importation and distribution of beIN set-top boxes; suspending all monetary transactions with beIN; and blocking access to beIN’s websites and call centre.
In addition to these measures, Saudi Arabia has been actively supporting the broadcast TV pirate channel named beoutQ. This sophisticated pirate steals on a near-daily basis beIn’s proprietary media content – together with content of other international broadcasters such as NBCUniversal Telemundo, and Eleven Sports – and makes it accessible illegally via the internet and satellite broadcasting.
BeIN now claims damages in excess of $1 billion. The broadcaster is seeking full compensation for these damages in its investment arbitration, which is brought pursuant to the OIC Agreement (The Agreement on Promotion and Protection and Guarantee of Investments among Member States of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference), other bilateral investment treaties, and the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.
As a sign of the increasing number of significant legal claims being brought against Saudi Arabia for backing beoutQ, the State of Qatar filed a case earlier today with the World Trade Organisation in Geneva based on numerous serious violations by Saudi Arabia of its obligations under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS Agreement”). Saudi Arabia’s non-compliance with the TRIPS Agreement can result in the WTO authorizing trade retaliation.
While the Saudi government has asserted that it has made “relentless efforts” to combat piracy, the reality – according to BeIn – is that beoutQ set-top boxes have been widely and openly sold across Saudi Arabia from dealers regulated by the Saudi regulatory authority (GCAM), and beoutQ’s pirate channels continue to be viewed in cafes, hotels, restaurants, airport lounges, public places and homes across the country.
Commenting on the launch of the investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia, Sophie Jordan, Executive Director of Legal Affairs – General Counsel of beIN Media Group, said, “After failed attempts to resolve this dispute through dialogue, we have now been forced to issue a Notice of Arbitration due to Saudi Arabia’s concerted campaign to prevent beIN from operating in the country, despite beIN having the legal and commercial right to do so. We are a well-respected global broadcaster, providing millions of customers around the world with top quality programming. Quite clearly, we are being unfairly used as a political football in a wider regional dispute. But this case has implications far beyond beIN – in beoutQ, Saudi Arabia has created a plague of piracy and unless the whole sports, entertainment and broadcast industry takes a stand, its impact will be devastating and irreversible.”
David Roney, partner at international law firm Sidley Austin LLP, who is leading the investment arbitration on behalf of beIN, said, “beIN seeks redress for Saudi Arabia’s numerous unlawful measures that have excluded this successful broadcaster from the country and provide support for the sophisticated piracy of beIN’s proprietary media content. Piracy is a major problem facing the sports and broadcasting industries. By supporting beoutQ’s widespread and notorious infringement of the intellectual property rights of beIN and its partners, Saudi Arabia is setting a dangerous new precedent. beIN will pursue all available legal remedies to protect its rights and secure full compensation.”
(The infographic depicting the timeline of the alleged piracy by Saudi Arabia as presented by the BeIn Media Group; by clicking on the picture, you can enlarge it for a better view)