Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has been subjected to accusations that it is a state sponsor of piracy.
Opponents believe that unlicensed pay-TV provider beoutQ, which previously broadcast via satellite but now carries out business via the Internet, is operated by Saudi Arabia, depriving broadcasters worldwide of much-needed revenue.
To date, the Kingdom has denied involvement in the massive piracy operation but significant pressure continues to build.
International Condemnation for Saudi Arabia
Earlier this year the USTR declared beoutQ a ‘notorious market’ and following a complaint from Qatar on behalf of local broadcaster beIN, which has been hit particularly hard by beoutQ’s streaming activities, last week the World Trade Organization said that Saudi Arabia had failed to live up to its obligations under the TRIPS agreement.
Yesterday, without reference to either of these matters, the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) delivered an interesting announcement. The agency said that as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “continues” efforts to minimize intellectual property violations, it had recently monitored and analyzed 231 websites that violate intellectual property law.
Websites Will Be Blocked for Infringing Copyright
“Those detected sites included a group of violations, which are downloading and watching movies and series, directly broadcasting sites of encrypted sports channels, downloading books in PDF format sites, downloading and listening to music sites and all been done without obtaining a prior license or authorization from the right holder,” the statement reads.
The mention of sites that broadcast sports channels illegally is notable, especially considering additional emphasis by SAIP using specific terminology.
“SAIP has also detected websites that are selling subscriptions for encrypted TV channels through softwares or illicit streaming devices (ISDs) to break barriers for the purpose of displaying materials in illegal ways,” SAIP added.
Which group first penned the initialism ‘ISD’ is unclear but this relatively new creation has been widely adopted to describe any piece of hardware that is able to display streaming content without permission from rightsholders. It now features in most anti-piracy press releases concerning illicit sports streaming and is in regular use by groups such as the Premier League, including to describe beoutQ IPTV devices.
The names of the 231 allegedly-infringing sites haven’t been released by SAIP but the government agency suggests that while some are hosted overseas, others are managed locally leaving operators liable for significant financial and criminal penalties.
“SAIP confirmed that these practices violates the copyright protection law and entail financial penalties and fines that may reach up to 250,000 Saudi riyals [US$66,651],” SAIP writes.
“In addition to the applied fines, the violation may cause the closure of the site, or the cancelation of the commercial license, and in some cases it can cause to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or defamation at the account of the infringer and removing the infringement [sic].”
Saudi Arabia is Adept at Blocking Internet Resources
According to SAIP, its current aim is to prevent these platforms from being viewable by citizens in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, presumably via blocking mechanisms.
No technical details have been provided on how this blocking will be carried out but the country’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has plenty of experience in censoring content delivered via the Internet.
In order to protect citizens from viewing content considered harmful by the state, CITC has an extensive Internet-filtering system in place, one that has blocked millions of links over the years, much of it pornographic in nature.
Copyright Crackdown Timing and Newcastle United Sale
The crackdown announced by SAIP makes no mention of the continued operation of piracy service beoutQ or the proposed Saudi-backed takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United. The latter has become inextricably linked to the former, with critics bemoaning Saudi Arabia for claiming to support the growth of football while simultaneously undermining revenues via pirate broadcasts.
Whether beoutQ is among the 231 sites awaiting blocking is unknown.