beoutQ: Notorious pirate is down, but its echo reverberates

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(Updated May 6, 2020)

One of the worlds largest video piracy operations, beoutQ (*), which was reportedly operating out of Saudi Arabia, commenced operations in August 2017.  By October 2018, its primary victim, beIN Media Group LLC of Qatar, filed a suit demanding a $1B settlement just for beoutQ’s first six months.

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According to reports, beoutQ itself ceased to operate in August 2019.  Nevertheless, online distribution of the same programming continues to reverberate through a seeming myriad of illegal channels, and that content is being captured, hosted, and redistributed by other pirates in many countries.

A public relations effort

Details of the situation are available at beoutQ.tv, a Web site commissioned by beIN Media in 2018 and updated on a relatively ongoing basis.  The site also provides a detailed listing of the stolen programming being re-distributed by beoutQ, current as of November of that year.

Victims of beoutQ have spoken out.  In July 2019, the African Football Federation said in a news release (**) that beoutQ “fraudulently hijacked” all 36 games of the final phase of the Total African Cup of Nations, which played out in Egypt in mid-July.

In October (2019) beIN Media CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly spoke at the Sports Business Summit in London, saying that piracy has made its exclusive content offers meaningless, that “the very economic model of our industry is going to be re-written,” and that the industry has not taken a serious stance against piracy.

Coinciding with that October event, Leaders in Sport, the organizer of the Sports Business Summit, published a thorough case study beoutQ: an unprecedent piracy story, which is available to download.

US Trade Representative gets involved

On February 26, 2020, the Office of the United States Trade Representative held a public hearing to gather input for its upcoming 2020 Special 301 Report, which constitutes an official record of global intellectual property issues affecting the United States and the world. beIN Media and Miramax – in which beIN Media is now the majority owner in a joint venture with ViacomCBS – both submitted written testimony, as did a number of others.  That’s a good place to find the status of the situation, as of Q1 2020.

According to the “Special 301 Report” issued by the Office of the US Trade Representative on April 25, 2020, beoutQ was taken offline in August 2019, and the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property has since raided stores selling illicit streaming devices and conducted IP awareness campaigns to combat online piracy.”

Who else was involved in stopping it?

A number of video technology suppliers have been involved in attempts to end beoutQ.  An analysis of beoutQ’s custom-built set-top box, which was commissioned by the UEFA and a group of UK sports leagues, was released.  That analysis was conducted by MarkMonitor.

Security supplier Nagra published two detailed reports about beoutQ during 2018: an analysis of beoutQ broadcast piracy dated August, and an analysis of beoutQ’s Android TV-based illicit streaming device and the apps and content available through it, dated November of that year.

In September 2019, industry journalist Videonet interviewed the CTO of beIN Media, joined by a representative of Synamedia.   Other companies and professional services teams who wish to remain anonymous are also involved.

The sports media industry was also involved, according to an article in Sports Pro.  The beIN Sports division of beIN Media worked closely with the English Premier League and others, as beoutQ was a threat to their businesses as well.

Even though beoutQ is down, concerns remain

According to the 2019 USTR ‘Notorious Markets List report (see pages 4-5), there are lingering uncertainties.  Although “sales of beoutQ ISDs appear to have stopped, …  the reason that beoutQ stopped operating remains unknown—there was no successful public judicial or enforcement action taken against beoutQ by a government or the private sector. Second, despite international recognition that beoutQ based its operations in Saudi Arabia and broadcast its signal over Arabsat satellites. Arabsat has continued to deny its involvement.

“Third, the popularity of beoutQ resulted in millions of beoutQ-branded IPTV boxes in homes and businesses throughout the region, some of which reportedly have been repurposed with other illicit IPTV streaming applications. The Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) has taken several actions to counteract the cultural acceptance of pirated content that beoutQ encouraged, such as conducting public awareness campaigns and supporting raids on stores selling ISDs, but significant work remains. USTR continues to monitor for the resurgence of beoutQ or any affiliated operations.”

Why this matters

Beyond the obvious – that the beoutQ situation has been terrible for the rights holders and content owners who are losing revenue daily to piracy – it’s noteworthy that so much information has been made available about it.

Readers who are unfamiliar with beoutQ should read these above-linked reference materials thoroughly.

Because it’s so big, the victims clearly decided to take a public stance as a way to educate the video industry about the very real risks and losses, and to help spur law enforcement, government agencies and regulators into action.  This level of awareness across the broader video industry is only good.

An interesting January 2020 wrinkle

In January 2020, the UK newspaper, The Guardian, reported that a Saudi-based wealth fund put forth a £340M offer to buy the English soccer team Newcastle United, which has a strong chance of approval.  As a Premier League club, its broadcasts, ironically, are distributed by beoutQ.  Who is to say what the beoutQ case’s legal footing would become if the acquisition goes through?

(*) Why the name beoutQ?  It’s a play on beIN Media out of Qatar.

(**) The original CAF press release is in French, translated to English by Google.

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