FIFA, NFL Ask U.S. to Keep Saudi Arabia on Watchlist Over Piracy

Global sports bodies asked the U.S. to keep Saudi Arabia on its higher-priority watch list of nations that don’t adequately protect intellectual-property rights because of what they say is unchecked content piracy in the kingdom.

The International Olympic Committee, global soccer governing-body FIFA, Europe’s UEFA, and a coalition representing U.S. sports organizations including the National Football League are among those that have written in recent weeks to the U.S. Trade Representative as part of its annual review to identify countries that deny adequate protection of IP rights. The USTR holds hearings on the so-called special 301 review in Washington Wednesday.

Global sports bodies say Saudi Arabia-based beoutQ tapped illegally into coverage of their top events and sold it on to viewers across the Middle East. Qatar, whose beIN Media Group LLC holds the rights to most soccer games, tennis matches and motor races, says beoutQ has pirated much of its content, adding Saudi Arabia is behind the operation. The Saudi authorities denied the allegation and said they were combating piracy.

While beoutQ ceased operation in 2019, piracy continues to be an issue in Saudi Arabia, mainly through the availability of beoutQ branded set-top boxes and similar IPTV devices made available in the Saudi market, the Sports Coalition said in its submission. It represents organizations including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the NFL.

In its 2019 report, the USTR placed Saudi Arabia on its priority watch list for failing to address longstanding IP concerns and further deteriorating IP protection and enforcement within its borders, and for “failing to take action against the rampant satellite and online piracy made available by illicit pirate service beoutQ.”

England’s Premier League, along with other sports-rights owners, sought lawyers to pursue copyright-infringement litigation in Saudi Arabia, but wasn’t able to retain legal counsel willing to act on its behalf.

“Ultimately, the Saudi Arabian legal system is not allowing the Premier League to have access to it, regardless of the merits of the case,” it said.

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