Business

NBA and Sky accuse Saudi Arabia of harboring media pirates

Posted February 14, 2019 1:04 p.m. EST

— American sports leagues and Europe's top pay-TV broadcaster have accused Saudi Arabia of allowing a streaming service to pirate their content.

The National Basketball Association, the US Tennis Association and a group representing the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have filed complaints with the US government over the alleged violations.

The leagues have filed submissions with the United States Trade Representative in recent days asking for Saudi Arabia to be placed on a "Priority Watch List" of countries that do not protect intellectual property rights. Comcast's Sky has made a similar complaint.

The piracy battle is playing out in the shadow of a larger geopolitical conflict between Saudi Arabia and the small but wealthy Gulf nation of Qatar.

The content owners claimed in their filings that a Saudi streaming service called BeoutQ frequently pirates their live sporting events. Qatar-based BeIN Media Group, which owns Miramax film studio, holds the regional broadcast rights for many of the events.

In some cases, BeoutQ is accused of ripping its feed directly from BeIN including the sports commentary, but replacing the BeIN logo with a BeoutQ logo.

"BeoutQ has illegally transmitted BeIN's coverage of numerous NBA games, US Open Tennis Championships, and many other high-profile sporting events," the NBA and USTA wrote in a submission filed last week.

Little is known about the operations of BeoutQ, but many observers see a geopolitical connection. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain launched a political and commercial boycott of Qatar in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism. While the Qatari government has strenuously denied the accusations, the conflict continues to simmer.

In its own filing with the United States Trade Representative, BeIN accused Saudi Arabia of permitting "the boldest, most sophisticated pattern of broadcast piracy the world has ever seen."

"While such piracy was initially focused on sports content, it has since expanded to cover the most popular movies and television programming in the world, much of which is produced in the United States," it alleged.

BeIN also alleged that the Saudi Ministry of Media has blocked access to its services in Saudi Arabia.

The Qatari company also accused BeoutQ of moving beyond just online streaming and into the sale of specialized set-top boxes that receive satellite broadcasts of pirated material.

Sky, which airs some of the biggest European sports events, wrote in its filing that BeoutQ is "a wholly parasitic rebranding" of BeIN and offers direct, unauthorized access to some of Sky's premium television channels. Sky also accused the Saudi government of fostering "a domestic environment that offers a 'safe haven' for piracy."

Sky wrote it "fully supports" BeIN's claims and that the BeoutQ service has spread beyond Saudi Arabia and into other parts of the Middle East.

The submissions were filed as part of an annual US review of intellectual property enforcement. The public was able to make submissions until February 7, while foreign governments have until February 21.

Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment. Representatives for BeoutQ also did not reply. CNN has asked the United States Trade Representative for comment.

Saudi Arabia is already on notice. The World Trade Organization (WTO) said in December that it would investigate Saudi Arabia following allegations of intellectual property breaches.

In 2018, the Untied States Trade Representative placed Saudi on its intellectual property "Watch List." If content owners have their way, it could soon join China and India on the more serious "Priority Watch List."