The World Trade Organization has ruled that there is vast evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia has supported pirate broadcaster beoutQ in using encrypted channels to illegally air premium sports and Hollywood content across the Middle East and beyond.
The case was brought to the WTO 18 months ago by the government of Qatar. BeoutQ is a rip-off of Qatari powerhouse beIN Media Group.
As part of the proceedings, the WTO tribunal — which is considered the top arbiter of global trade disputes — heard statements from top European sports bodies such as The Premier League, FIFA, UEFA, LaLiga, and the Bundesliga, it said in its 125-page decision, released Tuesday.
The Doha-based beIN, which is a state-owned spin-off of the Al Jazeera news network, has long accused the Saudi government of harboring beoutQ, which sprang up in 2017 shortly after Saudi Arabia banned beIN amid a bitter diplomatic standoff with Qatar.
BeIN alleges that beoutQ steals feeds of live sports events and films, and beams the content illegally to users in the Middle East and beyond. The content includes soccer matches, football games, Formula One races and Olympic events, plus thousands of premium Hollywood movies and TV shows, beIN says.
The WTO’s ruling on Tuesday has immediate potential repercussions in the U.K. where Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is trying to buy an 80% stake in the country’s Newcastle United soccer football club (pictured) in a deal worth a reported $378 million. Piracy is considered a criminal offense in the U.K., thus the ruling puts pressure on the U.K.’s Premier League to nix the deal. There has been no immediate comment from the Public Investment Fund.
According to the WTO ruling, beoutQ was promoted by Saudi government officials. The ruling also states that beoutQ has been transmitting through satellites owned by Saudi-based company Arabsat.
Saudi Arabia, which has not commented, can still appeal the WTO decision.