Piracy is a global phenomenon but the availability of enforcement options varies from country to country.
In Iraq, for example, tackling copyright infringement isn’t seen as a priority or a new phenomenon.
When U.S. troops were still stationed in Iraq, rightsholders discovered that American soldiers were picking up the local habit. As a result, “copyright notices” were sent to US bases and United States Central Command was put on high alert.
At the end of 2021, the U.S. combat mission in Iraq officially ended, so that’s no longer an issue. Iraq still faces plenty of internal issues, of course, but fighting piracy doesn’t appear to be high on the agenda. That’s a concern for copyright holders.
Rightsholders Report Iraq to the USTR
Given Iraq’s history, it is no surprise that the country has been repeatedly flagged by the U.S. Trade Representative. The USTR considers rightsholder input and other public signals when compiling its Special 301 Report, an annual list of countries that deserve extra attention due to intellectual property shortcomings that may hurt U.S. businesses.
The report doesn’t lead directly to concrete action but is used as a leverage tool at the highest diplomatic levels to ‘demand’ change. As such, recommendations are taken very seriously.
Ideally, strong statements and claims from rightsholders should be backed up by solid evidence. That’s not always needed for their positions to be cited in the USTR report but, more recently, the USTR has begun asking detailed follow-up questions. That has lead to some insightful results, also regarding Iraq.
90% Are Pirates?
Miramax and beIN, for example, stated in their submission that around 90% of the Iraqi population watches pirated live sports events and other media content. That’s a remarkable figure that we have never seen in any official reports, and it also triggered the USTR to ask “how these estimates are formulated.”
With roughly half of Iraq lacking a basic broadband connection, describing this section of society as online pirates is problematic. And since more than a third of all Iraqis are under 14, a considerable number of pirates must be rather young too.
Last week Miramax and beIN responded to the USTR’s questions, explaining that the claims about Iraq and Algeria come from local contacts and partners, as well as their own extensive, independent knowledge.
“beIN has developed these estimates through discussions with contacts and commercial partners on the ground in both countries. These estimates are also informed by beIN’s extensive, independent knowledge of piracy networks in Iraq and Algeria,” Miramax and beIN write.
The companies further explain that the 90% Iraqi piracy rate “should not come as a surprise” as external researchers have described the region as a “piracy hotspot.”
We examined the cited research and found that it doesn’t mention Iraq or Algeria specifically. In general terms, it refers to North Africa and the Middle East as a piracy hotspot, without sharing any concrete statistics.
While we don’t doubt that piracy is rampant in Iraq (and Algeria), there seems to be no hard data to back up the “90% of the population are pirates” claim. Without proper evidence, making such bold and strong claims in such an important recommendation could raise some eyebrows.
The USTR’s follow-up questions for beIN, Miramax, and other rightsholders are mostly requests for further evidence, to back up the claims being made. Responses often cite third-party sources instead of concrete detail, however.
For example, beIN said that it ‘understood’ that it would be very difficult for rightsholders to convince a public prosecutor to launch a copyright case against pirates in Algeria. The USTR requested further information on specific difficulties but it appears beIN’s comments are mostly based on input from its local counsel.
“beIN has not yet attempted to file a copyright infringement action (either civil or criminal) in Algeria. However, Algerian counsel has advised beIN that it would be extremely difficult for an audiovisual copyright holder to prevail in civil litigation against an infringer.
“According to Algerian counsel, it would be similarly difficult for an audiovisual copyright holder to convince an Algerian prosecutor to pursue criminal action,” beIN’s answer adds.
The same is true for the “lack of legal enforcement options in Iraq,” as reported by beIN to the U.S. Government. This claim is mostly based on advice from third parties rather than first-hand experience.
“beIN has received professional advice that due to the endemic political corruption in Iraq, legal actions against key infringers are unlikely to succeed,” beIN responded.
beIN and Miramax do mention some names of ‘pirate’ services that allegedly have good connections with local government. This leads to corruption and the lack of enforcement options, including prosecutions.
“beIN understands that the owners and operators of Earthlink, Chaloos, and iStar (three major Iraqi media pirates) have significant influence among Iraqi government officials, both at the federal and regional levels.
“This helps explain the lack of criminal action to date in Iraq against any of these three pirates, despite their wide reach and notoriety,” the broadcaster notes.
Similar claims were made last year. While this definitely sounds concerning and plausible, yet again the claims were based on reports from third-party sources rather than concrete evidence. At least, as far as we can see.
The question is whether the USTR feels comfortable repeating these allegations in its high-profile Special 301 report. Based on the questions asked, it appears that the Office would like to have more detail.
More Rightsholders, More Questions
In addition to the contributions from beIN and Miramax, the lack of concrete detail also comes up in other responses. For example, the Premier League also mentions the Shabakaty and Chaloos services, noting that local rightsholders reported them to the Iraqi Government.
The USTR asked the Premier League to provide more detail on these reporting efforts and how the government responded, but the football organization says it can’t share any.
“As the Premier League has not itself been directly involved in attempts to pursue enforcement action against the services in question, we are unable to provide further specific details,” the Premier League responded.
All in all, the above shows that several rightsholders’ complaints concerning governments lacking copyright policies rely on reports from third-party sources. While these can be insightful, placing a country on the Special 301 Watchlist ideally requires some verifiable facts as well.
A copy of beIN and Miramax’ answers to the USTR’s follow-up questions is available here (pdf) and the Premier League’s comments can be found here (pdf)