Saudi Arabia appeals against WTO ruling on beoutQ as Newcastle bid withdrawn
By Simon Ward
Saudi Arabia has appealed against a ruling by the World Trade Organisation holding the country responsible for the stealing of content by pirate network beoutQ, while a Saudi-backed takeover of English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United has fallen through.
The report issued last month by the WTO supported claims made by BeIN Media Group, the Qatar-based pay-television broadcaster, and various sports federations and leagues that the Saudi state had promoted and supported beoutQ.
The appeal comes despite the government having claimed at the time that the ruling was in its favour.
In a letter to the WTO’s appellate body, seen by the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Saleh Al Husseini, the Saudi ambassador to the organisation, claimed there are errors in the ruling which “it believes constitute serious errors of law and legal interpretation that need to be corrected.”
The move was thought to have added an extra layer of complication to the protracted £300 million ($389 million) takeover of Newcastle United, to be 80-per-cent financed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
However, the consortium, fronted by British financier Amanda Staveley and also involving the Reuben Brothers has now withdrawn its bid, citing, in part, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Premier League schedule and the staging of games.
In a statement today, the consortium said: “With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club. We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit.
“Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.”
The consortium had agreed a deal with current Newcastle owner Mike Ashley in March but the takeover was on hold as the Premier League carried out the required owners and directors test, which had taken longer than expected, with the piracy issue thought to be a factor.
BeoutQ has been accused of piracy of matches from top soccer competitions including the Premier League but the Saudi government rejects the WTO’s conclusion that the league was stopped from taking court action against the pirate broadcaster in the Middle East state.
It also denies the WTO assertion that BeIN, the Premier League rights holder in the region, was unable to obtain legal counsel to defend its IP rights in Saudi Arabia.
In addition to BeIN and the Premier League, top soccer bodies that led the charges against beoutQ included Fifa, Uefa, Spain’s LaLiga and Germany’s Bundesliga.
In the report, the Saudi government was found to have ignored take-down notices from these organisations, rejected the opportunity to take criminal action against beoutQ and blocked civil copyright infringement cases by putting pressure on nine Saudi law firms not to take up civil action sought by the rights holders.
In a statement immediately following the ruling, the Saudi government had highlighted its national security defence, claiming this was acknowledged in the report, and pointed to areas where it had rejected claims that Saudi law violated WTO rules and that it had supported the alleged piracy.
It said: "Saudi Arabia has a strong record of protecting intellectual property and is committed to applying its national law and procedures in full conformity with WTO rules."
However, there appeared to be an element of contrition with the Saudi Arabian Authority for Intellectual Property subsequently pledging to eliminate piracy and shut down 231 illicit platforms after more than two years of harbouring – and denying to acknowledge the existence of - beoutQ
Events are taking place against the background of a political dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which has contributed to the cancellation of the pay-television broadcaster’s licence to operate in Saudi Arabia, with the country’s General Authority for Competition having concluded it had “abused its dominant position through several monopolistic practices.”
BeIN has already been barred from broadcasting in Saudi Arabia since mid-2017.
Responding to the Saudi appeal over the WTO ruling, the broadcaster issued a statement saying: “Having spent the past six weeks telling the world how the WTO ruling was a ‘complete vindication of the kingdom’, curiously Saudi Arabia is now appealing a case they say they emphatically won.
“Rather than positively complying with international law, since June Saudi Arabia has lied to governments and rights holders across world sport about the WTO ruling; it has said the Premier League, Fifa and Uefa sent their legal case to the wrong Saudi email address nine times; it has permanently banned the Premier League’s broadcast partner meaning the only way to watch premium sport is via piracy; and now it is appealing a WTO decision that they said they won.
“All the while, Saudi Arabia is essentially trying to pass an honesty and an anti-piracy test under the Premier League’s rules and gain the trust of the international sports community.”