Rightsholders See Iraq as a ‘Corrupt’ Hotbed for Online Piracy, Ask the U.S. to Step In

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Several copyright holders are urging the United States Trade Representative to help tackle the unbridled piracy that takes place in Iraq. They describe the country as a hotbed for online piracy services which are also exported to Europe and the US. Due to lacking copyright laws and systematic corruption, external pressure is needed, they argue.

iraqPiracy is a global phenomenon but some countries have better enforcement options than others when it comes to dealing with the problem.

In Iraq, tackling copyright infringement appears to have very little priority.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. When U.S. troops were still stationed in Iraq, rightsholders found out that American soldiers were picking up the local habit. As a result, “copyright notices” were sent to US bases and even United States Central Command was put on high alert.

Last December, 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 is nowhere on the agenda. That’s a concern for copyright holders.

Rightsholders Sound the Alarm Bell

Recently, several rightsholders mentioned Iraq in their submission to the US Trade Representative (USTR). The USTR uses these and other public comments to create its Special 301 Report, an annual list of countries that deserve extra attention due to various shortcomings that may hurt U.S. businesses.

Miramax and beIN Media Group are by far the most elaborate. The two companies sent a joint submission with over a dozen pages dedicated to Iraq. According to the rightsholders, the country faces massive piracy issues internally, but it doesn’t stop there.

According to beIN, Iraqi pirates are also exporting pirated broadcasts worldwide, including to the United States.

“More than one third of all internet piracy of beIN channels originates from companies based in Northern Iraq. After being copied by these companies, beIN’s channels are then re-streamed on pirate IPTV services generally, as well as from pirate websites accessible all over the MENA region, and the rest of the world.

“Some Iraqi operators are even distributing pirated content in the United States, through both physical goods channels and the internet. Again, none of these pirates has faced any enforcement actions by the Iraqi authorities, despite operating in clear view of those authorities,” the companies write.

Corporate ‘Pirates’ Profit from Lacking Copyright Protection

This widespread piracy is hard to tackle since Iraq doesn’t have any effective copyright laws to protect foreign content. The country isn’t part of the WTO and didn’t sign crucial copyright-related deals such as the TRIPS Agreement, Berne Convention, Brussels Convention, or the WIPO treaty.

The lack of enforcement has led to an environment where major companies in the country are seemingly profiting from piracy. This includes the largest Iraqi Internet provider Earthlink, which has a broad entertainment offering. Perhaps too broad.

Earthlink operates data centers, offers residential internet, and provides services to businesses local governments across Iraq. At the same time, however, it’s also offering a controversial IPTV service called Shabakaty.

“Shabakaty provides illegal access to beIN channels, as well as channels and content owned by major US, European, and international right holders, to an estimated 5 million of its customers,” the rightsholders write.

Widespread Problem, Hard to Stop

This isn’t limited to beIN and Miramax channels, but also pirated broadcasts and on-demand content from Netflix, Discovery, Disney, FOX, HBO, MTV, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros.

The rightsholders provide several examples including screenshots of live programming and recent movies such as “Don’t Look Up” and “The Matrix Resurrections” that are on offer. According to the submission, these are made available without permission.

don't look up

In many other countries, these services would be taken to court, especially if they operate in the open. However, that’s not realistic in Iraq and Miramax and beIN have little faith that this will change in the near future. It seems that, after sending several cease and desist letters, they’ve given up already.

“beIN has sent cease and desist letters to Earthlink with no results. Given the systematic deficiencies in law enforcement in Iraq, there appears to be little, if any, prospect for meaningful enforcement action. beIN and Miramax consider that pursuing these operators in a civil action would be fruitless.”

To make matters worse, Earthlink is just one of the many companies that offer this type of content. The same also applies to Chaloos and iStar Media, which have a large user base as well. And locally, there are other “piracy” players as well, such as Al Nawars, Ahlina, Duhok, Saamira, Al Qush, Wadaq, Ahwar, Al Mulk, and Al Iraq Baghdad.

Failed Fatwas and Corruption

This issue isn’t new and beIN has tried to get the Iraqi Government on its side. However, that hasn’t resulted in any meaningful action.

Local beIN distributers even went as far as teaming up with religious leaders to release Fatwas and condemn illegal subscriptions, but that didn’t help either. There is reportedly too much “corruption” going on.

“[G]iven systematic problems with corruption in Iraq, the deficiencies in Iraq’s copyright regime, and our awareness of unsuccessful actions taken against pirates in that country, there does not appear to be a realistic prospect for meaningful IP enforcement in Iraq,” beIn and Miramax write.

The companies don’t mention any concrete examples, but they do highlight that the major piracy players in Iraq have close connections to the authorities.

“beIN understands that the owners and operators of Earthlink, Chaloos, and iStar (three of the major Iraqi pirates described above) have significant influence among Iraqi government officials, both at the federal and regional levels.

“This further supports the conclusion that there is little hope that the widespread piracy by these entities could be reduced or eliminated through the use of either civil or criminal judicial procedures in Iraq.”

Piracy Watchlist

Needless to say, these are big accusations. BeIN and Miramax ask the US Government to place Iraq on the piracy watchlist, hoping that this will help to change things.

Thus far, Iraq has never been featured on the Special 301 Watchlist. The companies submitted a similar request last year but that didn’t result in a listing. Instead, USTR highlighted other countries such as China, Russia, and Canada.

As previously reported, beIN and Miramax are not the only rightsholders that have mentioned Iraq in their submissions. The International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy, which includes the BBC and Dish Network as members, also highlighted the country as problematic.

A copy of the beIN/Miramax submission to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is available here (pdf)

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