By Anthony Harwood London Correspondent
*Action sought against pirated broadcast of beIN's copyrighted content
A diplomatic row means Saudi Arabia will be pirating all 64 matches of the Russia World Cup next month after banning the sports channel in Qatar, which owns the broadcast rights.
beIN Sports owns the rights to broadcast the FA Cup match across the Middle East, as well as the Premier League, Champions League and next month’s World Cup.
But ever since a diplomatic row between the two countries flared up a year ago Saudi Arabia has cut off all business with Qatar, including its sports fans’ access to the Qatari channel.
Shortly after the dispute started the Saudis banned the sale of beIN broadcast boxes and stopped existing customers from paying subscriptions to the channel.
Instead it managed to pirate the channel using a rogue satellite service, called beOutQ, which is ‘geo-locked’ so only internet users in the desert kingdom who pay $100 for decoder boxes can access it.
beOutQ broadcasts exactly the same transmission as beIN, with the same studio pundits, only with a ten second delay and the beOutQ logo superimposed.
beIN has tried to find out how the Saudi-based station is tapping into the footage.
But so far all they have been able to do is trace the BeOutQ signal to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Tom Keaveny, beIN’s Managing Director for the Middle East, said the BeOutQ operation ‘takes industrial scale knowledge and ability and multimillion dollar funding. This isn’t someone in their bedroom’.
It’s thought that the Saudi channel is able to re-broadcast content delivered to a legitimate beIN subscriber.
Each customer has a unique identification number, called a fingerprint, and normally this can be detected if fraud is being carried out and the supply cut off.
But the BeOutQ operation has found a way of hiding the finger print.
Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT, a British anti-piracy company who assists SKY with its prosecutions, said: "We are aware of the immense frustration and anger that comes out of beIN who are unable to stop what appears to be state-sponsored piracy.
"For beIN to lose market share to an illegal operator is causing them huge problems. Even though some may feel it’s not what it was, the FA Cup Final is still a massive thing around the world.
"In the past the Premier League has taken action against piracy in places like the Far East, where they’ve worked with law enforcement operators in the country.
"But it gets difficult when there’s a government involved. Everyone says it’s state-sponsored piracy. But it’s difficult to counter, because the powers are pretty limited."
Sophie Jordan, General Counsel of beIN Media Group, said: “For the past 10 months, beoutQ and its Saudi backers have been illegally pirating our proprietary sports content on an industrial scale, brazenly stealing IP and making it their own. If left unchecked, this will have a dramatic and long-term impact on the grass roots funding of the sports that we all enjoy.”
An FA Spokesperson said: "beIN are a valued international broadcast partner of The FA. We take issues of piracy seriously and support beIN with their anti-piracy efforts."
As well as the FA Cup the last few months of the 2017-18 Premier League season were also pirated by beOutQ.
A Premier League spokesman said: "The Premier League operates a significant anti-piracy programme in a range of countries to protect the copyright of the League and our clubs.
"Like all content creators and rights owners, our business model is predicated on the ability to market and sell protected rights and we will take all available action to support the investment made in the League by our legitimate broadcast partners."
Sharp said it was the responsibility of rights suppliers – such as the FA and Premier League – to ensure that these rights aren’t taken by others.
"I’m sure the Premier League are working out what to do, which is why they’re not saying too much about it," he added.
In June last year Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt launched a diplomatic and transport blockade of Qatar accusing it of cosying up to Iran and supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.
beIN has paid billions of dollars to secure exclusive rights to the world’s most prestigious tournaments to secure its primacy in the Middle East.
But now it faces the nightmare scenario of watching a bootlegging satellite service offering access to all 64 matches of the World Cup, and being unable to stop it.
Despite saying it supports beIN’s anti-piracy efforts, FIFA has been reluctant to openly criticise Saudi Arabia.
Critics point to recently-announced Saudi investment in a £15bn Club World Cup which football’s governing body hopes to launch in 2021.
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