by Rob Clothier | 16th June 2020

So today, The World Trade Organisation (WTO) have ruled that The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) supported & actively promoted the pirate sports TV station ‘BeOutQ’. The verdict states that KSA have breached their obligations under international law to protect intellectual property rights.

The ruling goes on to say that KSA entities & officials publicly promoted BeOutQ, which includes the use of ‘governmental tweets’. These officials they speak of include a guy called Saud Al-Qahtani, who is KSA’s crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s most trusted adviser.

For those who don’t know, BeOutQ is a rip off of the Qatari owned sports TV channel BeIN Sports (Media Group). BeIN hold exclusive rights to show the English Premier League in the Middle East, North Africa & Europe. It has been a long standing allegation of BeIN that KSA were stealing their TV signal and re-broadcasting it as their own under the guise of BeOutQ.

Why did all this start?

In 2017, Qatar were accused by four other countries (KSA, United Arab Emirates, Egypt & Bahrain) as being supporters of terrorism.

Qatar (and Saudi Arabia for that matter) has provided money and weapons to hardline Islamist rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad in Syria. But it has stressed that it does not have links to the al-Qaeda-linked alliance, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Despite Qatar’s strong denials of these terror links and accusations, a land, sea and air blockade was imposed upon Qatar in June 2017 by KSA & other neighbouring nations.

Qatar is dependent on imports by land and sea for the basic needs of its population of around 2.7 million, and about 40% of its food came in through the land border with Saudi Arabia. In addition, Qatar’s stock market lost about 10%, or about $15bn (£12bn), in market value over the first four weeks of the crisis.

It was at this time that the BeOutQ channel started airing. BeIN channels were disabled and their broadcasting equipment removed by KSA.

This WTO case against KSA by Qatar has been in progress for some one and a half years. The findings appear to show KSA’s guilt in undermining and exploiting Qatar’s intellectual property rights.

Part of the WTO ruling report reads, “The Saudi State actively promoted and supported beoutQ from the beginning and even sponsored multiple public gatherings with beoutQ screenings, including during the FIFA World Cup 2018 when the Saudi Government announced 294 public display screenings allocated across the 13 regions of Saudi Arabia broadcasting beoutQ; and – in addition – the Saudi State did not take any action whatsoever against beoutQ over the course of 3 years.”

The WTO goes on to conclude that the frequencies used to broadcast and transmit BeOutQ were done so via a satellite provider company named Arabsat, which has a Saudi CEO and is owned by the government of KSA. Arabsat have repeatedly ignored hundreds of official legal notices from FIFA, UEFA, The Premier League & most importantly BeIN. Even the hosting of BeOutQ was provided by a Saudi company, The Saudi Television Company.

UEFA said, “What is clear is that beoutQ’s broadcasts constitute piracy of UEFA’s matches and as such, are illegal. [The verdict] shows clearly that no-one involved in audio-visual piracy should consider themselves above the rule of law”.

The WTO report also reads, “Based on these (and many other) factual findings, the WTO has ruled clearly and explicitly that Saudi Arabia is in complete breach of international law, including its international treaty obligation.”

Qatar’s Ministry of Commerce & Industry have of course approved of the WTO’s findings and released the following, “Qatar, and international rights holders, have scored a resounding victory today.

Saudi Arabia, especially since it is hosting the upcoming G20, to respect this decisive ruling and end the theft and piracy of IP rights at once.

They can start by heeding the WTO’s ruling and conducting a fair, timely, and transparent legal proceeding against the perpetrators in order to stop this abuse post-haste.”

BeIN Media Group will now launch an arbitration case against KSA, which is estimated to be potentially worth $1bn in damages accrued since 2018. The outcome of this separate case is a long way off. Given today’s WTO ruling, it is obviously expected to rule in BeIN’s favour.

What does all this mean for the takeover of Newcastle United?

My personal view is that the result of the WTO case is not as bad as it could have been for the NUFC takeover prospects. This is because there is nothing in the WTO’s findings which make reference to the KSA’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is largely financing the purchase of Newcastle United.

Nowhere in the findings does it state that the Saudi Government are responsible for operating BeOutQ. Yes, the report shows that KSA prevented BeIN from being legally able to challenge BeOutQ, but it doesn’t show that KSA are directly involved in committing the actual piracy.

If the Premier League block the takeover on the back of this WTO report, there’s no doubt that Staveley’s consortium will respond with a top team of lawyers, leaving the Premier League helpless to stop it.

It is quite likely that KSA will simply find a scapegoat, as non-linked to the Kingdom or government as possible, to pin the piracy upon in order to clear KSA’s involvement.

This is all just my interpretation of matters. I’m sure many will disagree. Keep the cans on ice, a little while longer anyway.

by Rob Clothier | 16th June 2020