WTO to Probe Qatar's TV Piracy Claim Against Saudi Arabia

(Bloomberg) -- The World Trade Organization agreed to launch a dispute inquiry to determine whether Saudi Arabia failed to crack down on pirated broadcasts of Qatari television, a Qatari trade official said.

The Persian Gulf dispute adds to the growing list of national-security cases under consideration by a trade body that was never intended to intervene in such matters.

The WTO will now assign a panel of three dispute-settlement experts to evaluate Qatar’s allegations that Saudi Arabia violated the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which sets international trade rules regarding IP rights.

Earlier this year, Qatar alleged that a Saudi Arabia-based “broadcast pirate named beoutQ” retransmitted TV content produced by the Qatari-based sports broadcaster beIN Media Group LLC via the internet and satellite services.

Read more: Qatar Accuses Saudi Arabia of Broadcast Piracy in WTO Dispute

The Saudi Arabian government refused to take any actions against beoutQ, rejected beIN’s requests to investigate the matter, and promoted public gatherings with screenings of the unauthorized sports broadcasts, the Qatari government said in its complaint. BeIN separately lodged an international investment arbitration case against Saudi Arabia seeking $1 billion in damages over pirated broadcasts.

The Saudi government’s “apparent conviction that its measures are immune from review undermines the foundations of international IP protection,” Qatari trade official Saleh Al-Mana said.

“Those responsible for this Saudi-based pirate operation must be held to account,” said Sophie Jordan, executive director of legal affairs at beIN Media Group. “No one can be above the law.”

Saudi Arabian officials have called its measures legal under the WTO’s national-security exemption and refused to engage with Qatar over the matter. Riyadh is relying on a rarely-used WTO national-security exemption, which permits governments to take “any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests.”

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council partners claim the Qatari government funds terrorism, an allegation that Doha denies.

The feud stems from a 2017 economic dispute between Qatar and several GCC members — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates — who decided to impose a complete economic embargo on Qatar.

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