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Taking on the pirates

by Roger Field on Oct 10, 2016

Piracy has long been a problem for content producers and broadcasters in the region, which remains behind markets including Europe and the US in terms of fighting the threat.

But more recently there has been growing room for optimism, with initiatives from regional broadcasters and the MENA Broadcast Satellite Anti-Piracy Alliance, which was formed by a number of broadcasters and satellite operators in March 2014, helping to take the fight to the pirates.

Indeed, in the past few months there have been several victories from regional pay-TV operator OSN, which is increasingly quick to act against individuals or groups which illegally air content in the MENA region for which OSN holds the rights.

In late June, the Abu Dhabi Court convicted the administrator of a pirate website for illegally uploading torrents and enabling illegal streaming of copyrighted television series, movies, and misusing OSN’s intellectual property rights. The pirate was sentenced to six months in jail followed by deportation to his home country and was also ordered to pay AED 50,000 as compensation to OSN for copyright and trademark infringement.

This followed a series of successes in April when OSN announced that it had conducted more than 316 raids with the support of government authorities.

OSN worked with the authorities to swoop down on illegal Dish TV services and the unauthorised distribution of IPTV services.

While these successes deserve praise, it is clear that the scale of the problem is so great that much work remains to be done. Indeed, according to estimates by the International Data Corporation, TV piracy, through the use of illegal set-top boxes, unauthorised VPN subscriptions, and torrent downloads, costs over US$750 million in losses to the content and consumer product creation industries in the Middle East and Africa every year.

However, Nora Bakhorji, MBC Group’s anti-piracy executive, is optimistic about the potential impact of the group. “Since we started the coalition in 2014, we’ve had many successes. The coalition was built with only one aim in mind, which is to join the forces of the major players in the MENA region and combat piracy. We have developed policies and strategies and have built and nurtured a solid relationship with the members. We have been meeting for almost two years now and have come up with takedown policies where we all try to work together to remove these channels off air. As a coalition, we have successfully taken down numerous pirating channels up until today. We work together with the satellite distributors in order to avoid the legal route,” she says.

“We currently have a good working relationship with the UAE, Egypt and Saudi governments. Proactive engagement of the government, through the implementation of strict laws and raising public awareness, is vital to fighting this battle,” she adds.

In terms of which countries are worst affected by piracy, MBC’s experience appears to match the action taken by pay-TV peer, OSN. Bakhorji says: “The MENA region is suffering as a whole; there are many individuals who are willing to steal from the talented and successful people. For example, Egypt has great expertise in the film industry, great legacies and a large talent pool. It is a large target to many pirates. It will take time to create public awareness, governments are willing but progress is slow.”


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