Pirates sunk: Arab TV stations taken off air in copyright clampdown

Legitimate Arab broadcasters claimed a victory after several ‘pirate’ TV stations were shut down. (Al Arabiya)

Two Arab TV stations that allegedly broadcast pirated content have been taken off air by a major satellite provider, as legitimate media firms step up a campaign for better copyright enforcement in the region.

Panorama Comedy is no longer broadcasting via the Nilesat satellite, while a related channel Panorama Action also came off the air this weekend.

Industry figures allege that both channels, which are believed to be based in Egypt, are involved in illegal broadcasting of films to which they do not own the rights.

Rival broadcasters MBC Group, OSN and Rotana have joined forces to put pressure on ‘pirate’ channels, in an attempt to protect their rights to films and TV series, which are worth millions of dollars a year. Al Arabiya is part of MBC Group.

Sam Barnett, the chief executive of MBC Group, said that many of the pirate satellite-TV channels operating in the region are broadcasting movies without proper license from the legitimate right holders.

Most of these channels, when challenged in connection to their unauthorized operations, presented documents that are believed to be forged. These operations once confirmed by a court of law may place the pirate channels and their owners under severe criminal sentences.

Barnett said that cooperation from satellite operators such as Nilesat was helping solve what he called a “scourge” in the regional media business.

“The channels were clearly illegitimately inspired. There was no attempt to get rights. When it was made clear to them that the rights had been illegally acquired… they just tried to find other ways of broadcasting,” said Barnett.

“What happened a few weeks ago was that we finally made breakthroughs. Nilesat agreed that they would stop broadcasting Panorama: Panorama Comedy has already closed down as well as Panorama Action this past Saturday.”

Barnett estimated that one of the Panorama channels was allegedly infringing content rights worth up to $40 million a year.

“Panorama Action was broadcasting between 20 and 30 movies a week, without proper licensing from the legitimate right holders. They were running a grid which would have probably cost $30 million to $40 million a year – and they were essentially running it for free,” said Mr Barnett.

David Butorac, chief executive of OSN, confirmed that the two channels would no longer be available on Nilesat following pressure from legitimate broadcasters.

“A joint initiative being spearheaded by MBC and OSN and Rotana is now seeing tangible results in the fight against piracy in the region,” he said.

“The legitimate broadcast industry has created a 24/7 monitoring program to ensure that [when any] channels are broadcasting illegal content, the satellite companies are immediately informed.”

A senior executive at Nilesat refused to provide an official comment when contacted by Al Arabiya, requesting that his name is not published.

But a source close to Nilesat confirmed the two channels would no longer be carried. The source claimed however that the channels would be dropped because Panorama had requested that its contract be terminated.

Panorama could not be reached for comment.

Barnett said last year that around 15 satellite channels broadcast in the Arab world were illegally broadcasting Hollywood and Arabic movies.

But pressure from rights holders in the region has seen many of these be dropped by satellite companies, he said.

Some channels closed early because they realized they bought ‘fake’ rights to shows, Barnett said.

Distributors alleging the rights to shows included Al Dhabianya Media, based in Abu Dhabi, and International Rising Establishment based in Jordan, Barnett said. This could not be independently verified by Al Arabiya.

But other channels, including Panorama Comedy and Panorama Action, refused to stop broadcasting pirate material, Barnett said.

“The satellite operators didn’t feel in a position to stop this… We saw the pirate channels get more and more aggressive. They were taking movies just after theatrical release. One of them aired Skyfall, the latest Bond movie, literally weeks after it had been in the cinema,” he said.

“These channels were on the brink of destroying the TV movie business in the Middle East… We were not going to renew our contracts [with studios] on the same basis when their rights were being severely abused.”

Several of the pirate channels accepted advertising in a bid to generate revenue. Adverts from high-profile brands were seen on the Panorama Action channel, sources said. These advertisers did not immediately respond for a request for comment when contacted by Al Arabiya.

Other satellite broadcasters have also begun clamping down on TV stations broadcasting pirated content.

Omar Shoter, chief executive of the Jordan-based Noorsat, said that it had issued warnings to the Majestic Cinema and Top Movies channels for allegedly broadcasting material to which they do not own the copyright.

“We have not closed those channels, but we have made sure that they do not broadcast any content unless they have the rights to it,” he said.

Majestic Cinema and Top Movies could not be reached for comment.

Shoter claimed that the two channels believed “they had the right to broadcast the content”, but complaints from other broadcasters suggested otherwise.

Mohammed Al Haj, chairman of Kuwait-based Gulfsat, said it had also shut off two stations for allegedly broadcasting pirated material. Those stations are Panorama Action and Top Movies, he said.

“We received a list of all the content and programs that they had, which had exclusivity with MBC and OSN,” he said. “We shut them off; we put them out of the air.”

Gulfsat is owned by KIPCO, which also part-owns OSN.

Barnett said there was a “cat and mouse game” in the industry, whereby channels shut off by one satellite provider then approach another in an attempt to get on air.

But he added that the industry was close to solving the problem following the recent action against several stations.

“I won’t say we’ve completely solved it, but we’re on the road. What we have done is that we’ve enlisted the satellite operators’ support, which is a change,” he said.

He said the issue of pirate stations is more severe than the sale of fake DVDs, because satellites have the potential reach of up to 350 million people in the Arab world.

“It’s a mass crime. Stealing Skyfall and then broadcasting it to that number of people obliterated all rights everywhere… We are therefore happy that the satellite operators have now taken a stand against this illegitimate operation. This has essentially rescued the movie business.”

But the fight against piracy continues, with several regional websites – a number of which are based in Israel – also said to be infringing copyright.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:39 - GMT 06:39
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