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FA ‘threatens Saudi legal action’ over Newcastle FA Cup archive broadcasts

Alan Shearer of Newcastle in action during 1999-00 FA Cup clash against Tottenham Hotspur (Mike Hewitt /Allsport)

The English FA is threatening to take the Saudi state-backed broadcaster KSA Sports to court over showing clips of old FA Cup matches featuring Newcastle United, it has been reported.

UK newspaper the Times reported that lawyers for the FA, football’s governing body in England, sent a letter to KSA Sports last week claiming copyright infringement.

The letter, which was copied to the Saudi Arabian government and the Premier League, stated: “Broadcast piracy is a significant concern for all rights-holders and content providers and failure to promptly take affirmative steps will cause significant financial and reputational harm to us.”

It gave KSA Sports until June 2 to confirm that it will cease all infringements, otherwise the FA would begin legal proceedings.

It could be that KSA Sports is broadcasting the old Newcastle content to drum up enthusiasm within the Kingdom ahead of a potential takeover of the Premier League club by a Saudi-backed consortium. The Saudi Public Investment Fund is behind the proposed £300m (€331m/$363.5m) deal.

The Riyadh-based Saudi PIF is looking to secure 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. The club is currently owned by businessman Mike Ashley.

The Premier League is still mulling over whether to approve the deal.

In addition to the sensitivities around the Newcastle take-over proposal, Saudi Arabia will be sensitive to any accusations of piracy given its long-running denial of any part in the activities of pirate broadcaster beoutQ.

The World Trade Organization has reportedly ruled that the Saudi Arabian government operates the pirate service.  It is also claimed that the English Premier League made submissions against Saudi Arabia as part of the WTO investigation. The WTO ruling is due to be published in the middle of this month, and follows 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.

BeoutQ was launched in the wake of the Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar which began in June 2017.

It has challenged the dominance of Qatari pay-television operator beIN Media Group and its beIN Sports premium channels. BeIN has become the dominant pay-television operator in the Middle East and North Africa over the last decade. Its sports programming has been reproduced virtually in its entirety on the beoutQ platform.

The beoutQ broadcasts are no longer carried on Arabsat’s satellite platform but persist through IPTV set-top boxes. Arabsat has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.