The World Trade Organization has said it would investigate Qatar‘s allegations of intellectual property breaches against Saudi Arabia, dismissing Riyadh’s objection over what it said were national security concerns.
A Geneva trade official said on Tuesday the WTO had agreed “to establish a panel to rule on Saudi Arabia’s alleged failure to provide adequate protection of intellectual property rights”.
Qatar launched the dispute in October saying Saudi Arabia was blocking the Qatari-owned beIN Sports network and refusing to take effective action against the piracy of its content by a sophisticated operation called “beoutQ“.
BeoutQ, a 10-channel system broadcasting to the Middle East on the Arabsat operator, is allegedly being transmitted from Saudi Arabia.
BeIN Sports holds the legal rights for the broadcast of all Premier League fixtures across the Middle East and North Africa.
Saudi Arabia this month sought to block the case from being accepted arguing vital security interests tied to its boycott of Qatar. The trade dispute body could not hear the case.
Qatar’s representative to the WTO welcomed the decision to hear the case and said, “Legal experts have found no basis for using the pretext of national security to cover up crimes of IP rights piracy.”
The United States has supported Saudi Arabia’s national security objection to hearing the case. Washington used similar grounds to argue against a WTO case directed at US tariffs on steel and aluminium raised earlier this year.
Saudi Arabia was the biggest market for beIN Media Group before the boycott. The Qatari company holds regional broadcasting rights for much of the world’s most expensive and high-profile sporting events as well as entertainment.
The company is pursuing its own arbitration under an investment protection agreement of the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and seeking a $1bn settlement.
“There has been an utterly unprecedented and brazen act of theft of intellectual properties rights over the past 18 months,” beIN said in a statement after the WTO decision.
It has affected “rights holders, broadcasters, movie studios and other stakeholders across the world of sports and entertainment – and the responsible parties must be held to account,” it said.
The quartet accused Doha of supporting “terrorism”. Qatar has denied the charges and said the boycott aims to impinge on its sovereignty.