BeIN hails court’s ‘firm terms’ in French piracy case

French pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports has praised the sentencing of five individuals found guilty of running an operation pirating the content of sports broadcasters as an “important step forward” in efforts to combat such activity in the country.

A Rennes court this week ruled that the men illegally reproduced, broadcast and made available to the public sports programming from beIN, along with fellow French pay-television broadcasters Canal Plus and RMC Sport.

The defendants were prosecuted for having created, maintained and operated a “galaxy” made up of several dozen websites, including ‘beinsports-streaming.com’, which illegally streamed sports content between 2014 and 2018.

The trial, which was held on March 5, marked the culmination of a complex investigation, which made it possible to identify the individuals concerned. The investigation had also revealed their operating methods and analysed in depth the revenue streams from which some had benefited, thanks in particular to the sale of advertising space on websites.

The nine most-visited sites attracted more than 7.5 million unique visitors from 2014 to 2017, according to L’Équipe. The creator of the sites, ‘Olivier O’, received a 12-month prison sentence, six months of which were suspended. He was convicted of counterfeiting and money laundering.

‘Yannick T’, administrator of the sites, received a suspended sentence of six months. Two other accomplices were fined €10,000 ($11,385) apiece, and a third issued with a suspended fine of €5,000. All three broadcasters have also brought civil actions in the case, with Canal Plus said to be seeking €29.9m in damages from the defendants. The court postponed the hearing on civil interests until October 15.

Commenting on the case, Caroline Guenneteau, legal director of beIN Sports France, said: “As this is the first case of this magnitude before a correctional court in France, we are delighted with this decision, including firm terms of imprisonment, confiscations and hefty fines.

“This constitutes an important step forward in the sanction of illegal streaming and the protection of the rights of broadcasters’ programming, in particular sports broadcasts. This decision consolidates the position of beIN Sports as a major player in the fight against piracy, a real scourge of the ecosystem of sport in France and abroad.”

Indeed, beIN has fought a long-running battle against the beoutQ service. The World Trade Organization is expected to soon rule that the Saudi Arabian government operates the beoutQ pirate television service.

If confirmed, the WTO ruling would mark a further ratcheting of pressure on Saudi Arabia after recent moves by US and EU authorities to flag the country’s copyright infringements. A group of eight major rights-holders, comprising Fifa, Uefa, the AFC and Europe’s top five football leagues, had previously tried and failed to take legal action against beoutQ in the Saudi Arabian courts.

Saudi Arabia has always denied being behind beoutQ. The channel was launched in the wake of the Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar which began in June 2017. BeoutQ has challenged the dominance of Qatari pay-television operator beIN Media Group and its beIN Sports premium channels.

In April, Yousef al-Obaidly, chief executive of beIN Media Group, wrote to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and the chairmen of the respective clubs, urging the league to consider blocking the proposed takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The Riyadh-based Saudi PIF is said to be close to securing an 80-per-cent stake in Newcastle as part of a consortium including Dubai-based financier Amanda Staveley and the billionaire Reuben brothers, David and Simon.

BeIN, with whom the Premier League holds one of its most lucrative international rights deals, has expressed its opposition to the deal. In its letter to Masters, the broadcaster urged the league to “robustly apply” the Owners’ and Directors’ Test when assessing the proposed takeover.

BeIN’s letter to Premier League chairmen informed them of Saudi Arabia’s “theft of clubs’ intellectual property and commercial rights for nearly three years”. BeIN Sports holds rights to the Premier League in the Middle East and North Africa region as part of a three-year deal covering the 2019-20 to 2021-22 seasons.