November 19, 2018 / 7:00 PM / 19 days ago

Qatar escalates WTO dispute over alleged Saudi IP violation

GENEVA (Reuters) - Qatar has escalated a dispute against Saudi Arabia at the World Trade Organization, a WTO filing showed on Monday, with a request for adjudication of its complaint that Saudi Arabia had violated its intellectual property rights.

BeIN Sport logo in Doha, Qatar, June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

Qatar launched the dispute in October, saying Saudi Arabia was blocking Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN and refusing to take effective action against the piracy of beIN content by a sophisticated pirate operation called “beoutQ”.

Qatar’s latest WTO filing, dated Nov. 9 and published on Monday, said Saudi Arabia had refused to meet Qatari officials to try to resolve the dispute, as required by WTO rules.

A Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saudi officials have previously said that the country is taking action to combat piracy and is committed to protecting intellectual property rights.

The request for a WTO adjudication panel reiterated Qatar’s original complaint, and also argued that beoutQ was violating not only Qatar’s rights but those of many other countries, whose TV programs could now be watched for free in Saudi Arabia.

“The IPTV applications on beoutQ set-top boxes provide access, in the territory of Saudi Arabia, to hundreds of television channels and thousands of on-demand programs from around the world, without the authorization of the intellectual property right holders,” Qatar’s latest filing said, referring to applications for so-called Internet Protocol television.

Saudi Arabia was making it impossible for Qatari nationals to protect their intellectual property rights, giving Qatari nationals less favorable treatment than Saudi and other nationals, and making it unduly difficult for Qataris to seek judicial remedies, Qatar said.

It also criticized “Saudi Arabia’s omission to prosecute, as a criminal violation, piracy on a commercial scale, of material in which copyright is owned by, or licensed to, Qatari nationals, and other rights holders from around the world.”

Global sports network beIN Sports is blocked in Saudi Arabia under a boycott the kingdom imposed on Qatar over a year ago. Riyadh and Arab allies severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017 over its alleged support of terrorism. Doha denies the accusations and relations remain hostile.

Reporting by Tom Miles, Editing by William Maclean

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