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Nick White | Qatar passes new IP laws to protect Fifa World Cup rights

Nick White, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, explores how the Qatari legislature has brought in new IP legislation to help protect the rights of Fifa and its commercial partners at this year’s men's World Cup.  

Nick White, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys.

With the Fifa World Cup 2022 in Qatar rapidly approaching, the host country’s legislator has established new intellectual property (IP) legislation to help protect the rights of Fifa and its commercial partners. Capturing the attention of billions globally, the FIFA World Cup is, alongside the Olympics, the world’s largest sporting event. Key brand assets such as the names of the event, the World Cup trophy, the official emblem and even the event mascot will have broad global recognition. Iconic assets as such are the cornerstone of Fifa’s commercial programme and it is of paramount importance that the brand is properly protected.

The enacting of specific legislation to help protect the IP assets of the world’s biggest events is now commonplace and something that rightsholders such as the International Olympic Committee and Fifa insist upon from potential hosts as part of the bidding process. Legislators in the UK enacted such laws for the London Olympic Games in 2012, essentially granting an exclusive right for the organisers to authorise third parties to associate their goods or services with the London Olympics.

Qatar is the latest country to follow suit and with less than six months to go until the competition gets underway, football’s governing body has ensured that it has bolstered its IP rights for the duration of the event.

How will Fifa’s IP rights be protected?

FIFA’s rights throughout the competition will be reinforced by the passing of Law No.11 of 2021. The bespoke legislation which overhauled the country’s existing framework, has been issued to regulate and govern the full breadth of intellectual property rights pertained to Fifa and its commercial partners, including trademarks, copyrights and neighbouring rights.

With SportBusiness Sponsorship reporting that Fifa’s World Cup partners pay between $9 million and $23 million to associate with the international tournament, protecting the rights of sponsors and licensees is a critical consideration. Brands who do not sponsor the event often try to come up with the most creative campaigns.

During the London Olympics, Paddy Power ran an ‘Official Sponsor of the Largest Athletics Event in London This Year’ ad, quipping that it was sponsoring an egg and spoon race in the town of London in France. Such campaigns can understandably cause consternation to the official event sponsors and partners of these events, who have paid handsomely for the right to associate themselves and have exclusive use of the event IP.

The Law recognises Fifa’s trademarks as “well known” and protected in Qatar regardless of whether they are registered there, so long as they are protected in any of the countries signed up to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, which accounts for the vast majority of countries globally. The Law also provides an accelerated process for Fifa to object to problematic third-party trademarks. The scope of legislation brought in to protect the trademarks and copyrights of football’s governing body is considerable, ultimately bolstering and streamlining the process for registering and protecting the organisation’s IP privileges during the tournament.

Enforcing Fifa’s IP and commercial rights

Law No. 10/2021, specifically Chapter 6, regulates Fifa’s commercial rights for the competition. It sets out what these rights are, and covers everything from logos, billboards and the mascot to rights around broadcasting and musical works. The Law strictly prohibits anyone from interfering with the aforementioned rights, through using, recording, selling, or imitating them, without a licence from Fifa. The registration and use of domain names involving Fifa’s IP rights without a licence are similarly prohibited.

Acts of unfair competition regarding Fifa are also banned, including carrying out commercial activities that could be seen to be linked to Fifa or the Supreme Committee for Projects and Legacy; using tickets in advertising, bets or competitions or including their cost in tourism packages without Fifa’s written consent; and showing a public event without a licence. Those who do receive approval or a licence will need to comply with Fifa’s regulations.

In addition, Fifa has the exclusive right to issue and sell tickets (though it may authorise third parties to do so on its behalf) and tickets may not be issued, resold, redistributed or exchanged without a licence. Fifa will determine the conditions for sale or return of tickets and process the data of ticket buyers.

Restricted areas with diameters up to two kilometres are to be established around each of the eight Fifa World Cup 2022 stadiums and any other event sites as determined by the governing body such as the Fifa Fan Festival site. Commercial activity by anyone other than Fifa and its commercial partners may be curtailed in such areas. Meanwhile, the legislation makes clear that all products marketed by Fifa and its partners may be sold and advertised within these areas.

We understand that the first arrests under the new legislation took place in May, with Qatari authorities announcing that five people had been arrested for promoting the sale of clothes bearing the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 logo without obtaining prior approval. In December 2021, authorities raided a facility that was producing perfume for use in World Cup-branded bottles, but no arrests were made.

Beyond that, of course, no amount of Qatari legislation can affect what marketing or advertising takes place outside of Qatar. As such, Fifa and its teams on the ground will need to be as vigilant as ever when it comes to policing infringements and ambush marketing attempts that may take place elsewhere.

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