Content piracy costing Mena industry $500m and costing jobs, OSN chief says

Martin Stewart said fight against the theft of intellectual property is ongoing as he launched game in Dubai to educate children on why piracy is wrong

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Piracy is costing the entertainment industry in the Middle East US$500 million annually, said OSN’s chief executive as he launched a game aimed at highlighting the consequences of piracy.

Despite the continued efforts of authorities and big industry players such as OSN, Martin Stewart said that it is still a massive issue for his pay TV network.

“The entertainment industry’s biggest problem is piracy. Illegal theft of content is the biggest danger of the future of creative industries across the world. Here in the Middle East, we suffer from it,” said Mr Stewart.

“The impact is many tens of millions, if not billions, of dollars on a global basis. The threat of piracy is on recorded music, films, TV shows and video games. Anything that people can put online is capable of being stolen. And let’s not forget illegal satellite boxes and illegal streaming. There are all sorts of different ways that content can be stolen.”

Last year a Dubai court convicted an illegal internet TV provider in a first for the region, and OSN hailed it as an unprecedented victory. The network has also joined with authorities in the GCC, Egypt and Jordan to conduct hundreds of anti-piracy raids that have resulted in unauthorised operators being fined, shops closed and equipment confiscated.

In addition to digital piracy, the UAE has a problem with illegal satellite boxes, often for the South Asian market.

Crackdowns by departments of economic development, in collusion with OSN, have been seen across the Emirates in the past, resulting in hefty fines and deportation orders for those illegally selling Dish TV India, TataSky, Sun Direct, Airtel and Reliance decoders, which are unauthorised and unlicensed in the Mena region. Authorities have also warned against the use of illegal cables, hybrid decoders and digital piracy.

“Pirated material is a not victimless crime. The Middle East region as a whole is losing hundreds of millions,” Mr Stewart said.


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“It is not about just downloading the content and it is not hurting anybody. It is hurting too many people whose jobs depend upon creating the content. If we do not make sure that people are fairly rewarded, then there will not be that content in the future, so it is important to pass a message on about the importance of content and intellectual property and that’s why we are targeting the youth through a game called Copycat Combat.”

The 60-second game is a collaboration between OSN and Dubai Customs, which it works with closely on combatting the import of illegal satellites, IPTV devices as well as protecting intellectual property rights.

“What we are trying to do today with Copycat Combat is to explain to people the consequences of piracy. When a player wins the game, it says thanks for your actions because you managed to beat the pirates. That’s the whole message. It is about linking the consequences of people’s actions to the entertainment that they enjoy,” Mr Stewart said.

“Those people working in the industry are earning their living from it. They have a job to do, which is creating stuff that people want to enjoy. If we do not find find ways that reward people for their job, then there is no great content for the future and that’s the central message behind Copycat Combat.”

The game is part of KidZania at Dubai Mall and it is just one strand of a multi-pronged attack on pirates.

“The Government and concerned entities stand against illegal activity whenever we see it. Most of this illegal activity is run by organised criminal gangs. This is not somebody just doing something for fun,” said Mr Stewart. “These are organised criminal enterprises who are profiting from the theft of this great content. So we make sure that we crack down on them wherever possible.

“A production of educational materials, such as Copycat Combat, lets people understand the consequences of their actions. But we also provide content at affordable prices. There is no need to steal when there is affordable alternatives through OSN for a very small amount of money.

“I do understand the temptation when someone advertises a movie for $100 when there is a free alternative. However, when a movie for $3 or $4, then really there is not much incentive for somebody to steal it. That what my organisation is trying to do, giving people the legal,  affordable, safe alternative.”