BeIN hits Saudi Arabia with $1bn compensation claim

Qatar-based sports and entertainment media group, beIN Corporation, has today (Monday) launched a $1bn (€863.7m) international investment arbitration against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, citing the state’s alleged support of pirate channel BeoutQ and the fact it has been “unlawfully” driven out of the Saudi market.

Today’s announcement coincides with the news that the state of Qatar has also launched an action at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, accusing the kingdom of violating intellectual property rights. The developments reflect the ongoing diplomatic crisis between the two countries, with beIN stating its case is the only known investment arbitration ever to be brought in connection with state-supported illegal broadcast piracy.

In August, the General Authority for Competition for Saudi Arabia cancelled beIN’s license to broadcast in the country, along with placing a $2.6m fine on the company. According to the Authority, the sanctions were placed upon beIN due to violation of competition laws in Saudi Arabia. Earlier, the campaign against BeoutQ intensified with the French football league (LFP) and English Premier League stating they had escalated a complaint over the matter to the European Commission.

BeIN claims that in tandem with Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat, BeoutQ has “orchestrated a plague of piracy” on world sports and entertainment over the past year. BeIN states that following the suspension of diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017, Saudi Arabia has initiated a series of “abusive measures” specifically targeting the broadcaster, with the objective of forcing it out of the local broadcasting market and destroying the value of beIN’s investments in Saudi Arabia.

In addition to these measures, beIN alleges that Saudi Arabia has “flagrantly breached” international law and norms by actively supporting BeoutQ, claims that Saudi authorities have consistently denied. BeoutQ has lifted beIN’s proprietary media content on a near-daily basis, together with content of other international broadcasters, such as US media company NBCUniversal and international sports broadcaster Eleven Sports, making it accessible illegally via the internet and satellite broadcasting.

As a result of the “arbitrary and discriminatory” measures implemented by Saudi Arabia specifically against beIN, which the company stated have also included “baseless” competition law proceedings, ongoing harassment of beIN employees and disruption of major beIN sporting events, it said it has suffered damages in excess of $1bn. BeIN is seeking full compensation for these damages in its investment arbitration, although it is as-yet unclear as to where the claim will be heard.

Sophie Jordan, executive director of legal affairs and general counsel of beIN Media Group, said: “After failed attempts to resolve this dispute through dialogue, we have now been forced to issue a Notice of Arbitration due to Saudi Arabia’s concerted campaign to prevent beIN from operating in the country, despite beIN having the legal and commercial right to do so.

“We are a well-respected global broadcaster, providing millions of customers around the world with top-quality programming. Quite clearly, we are being unfairly used as a political football in a wider regional dispute. But this case has implications far beyond beIN – in BeoutQ, Saudi Arabia has created a plague of piracy, and unless the whole sports, entertainment and broadcast industry takes a stand, its impact will be devastating and irreversible.”