Sidley served as counsel to the State of Qatar in securing a landmark victory in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute against Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabia – Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (DS567)). Working as part of Qatar’s delegation, a team of Sidley litigators successfully challenged Saudi Arabia’s failure to protect intellectual property (IP) rights as violating multiple provisions of the WTO Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).
The dispute arose in the context of a sophisticated and notorious Saudi-based copyright pirate, known as beoutQ, that has been illegally transmitting global sports and entertainment broadcaster beIN Media Group’s (beIN) proprietary media content, as well as pirated content from broadcasters and sports leagues worldwide (including, inter alia, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Olympics and the NFL Super Bowl), across the Middle East and North Africa region. In parallel, Sidley represents beIN in related legal proceedings, including a high-stakes investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia.
This was the first dispute in the WTO’s history in which a panel ruled that a country failed to satisfy its obligation, under Article 61 of the TRIPS Agreement, to initiate criminal procedures against wilful IP infringement. At the same time, the Panel found that Saudi Arabia violated Articles 41 and 42 of the TRIPS Agreement, due to the difficulties that right holders faced in initiating civil infringement actions against the piracy. Of particular interest to the sports industry, the WTO Panel considered questions of first impression regarding the scope of the Berne Convention and TRIPS Agreement, as it applies to copyright protection for live sports broadcasts.
In addition to its significance for international IP law and policy, the result is historic because it is the first time in the 73-year history of multilateral trade rules that a panel has rejected a party’s national security defense.
Sidley partners Iain Sandford (Geneva) and Eric M. Solovy (Washington, D.C.) jointly led the team supporting Qatar in the dispute, which also included senior associate Deepak Raju (Geneva) and several other associates in Sidley’s Geneva and D.C. offices.