Satellite dishes are seen for the rooftop of the buildings Image Credit: Gulf News archives

DUBAI: Shops selling illegal direct-to-home (DTH) television services continue to do business even as the country’s highest court handed out a three-month jail sentence and a Dh50,000 fine to a DishTV India dealer this week.

Random calls made to satellite TV dealers showed that DishTV, Airtel Digital TV and Tata Sky decoders are still readily available in the UAE for prices ranging from Dh250 to Dh350.

“You want a DishTV set top box? Yes, we can install it at your place. It will cost Dh250 and it comes with a one-month free subscription,” said a dealer in Abu Hail, Dubai, who has advertised his services on a popular classifieds website.

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In Sharjah’s Rolla area, another dealer offered a Tata Sky high definition (HD) digital set top box for Dh300. “If you want a satellite antenna as well, it will cost extra. We will provide after sales services and also recharge the subscription on your behalf,” he boasted. In neighbouring Ajman, a dealer offered a Sun Direct decoder for Dh200.

Spurred by complaints by pay-TV networks, the Department of Economic Development has raided scores of unlawful television service providers over the years. The recent crackdown on the Dish TV dealer and subsequent court verdict is a fallout of a complaint by OSN.

Delivering the verdict, the Court of Cassation said the dealer had infringed upon the copyright and intellectual property of OSN by illegally importing and selling devices and recharging subscriptions of DishTV India. The court also upheld its decision to destroy over 2,000 illegal set top boxes and smart cards seized from the man.

Simon Wilkes, general counsel of OSN, said: “The ruling sends a very clear message that selling Dish TV India subscriptions in the UAE is criminal, and any dealers doing so will be prosecuted. “We hope that the stern and decisive actions being taken will continue to discourage the practice of selling or using pirate IPTV decoders and DishTV India in the UAE,” he said.

Residents at risk

It’s not only dealers who are at risk. Residents who consume pirated TV services and content can also face criminal action.

Authorities have routinely warned residents against subscribing to illegal TV. Yet, many continue to flirt with the law by smuggling set-top boxes into the UAE or buying them from the underground market.

An Indian expat said he brought a DishTV decoder from his hometown in 2007 to watch the Cricket World Cup. “Back then, airport customs weren’t so strict. I used it for about six years before switching for the advanced HD version which I bought in Ajman. Every time I need to renew my subscription, I pay the dealer in cash or remit money into his local bank. I don’t even know under whose name my connection is registered,” he said.

Many residents said they opt for illegal satellite dish antennas as they are cheaper than local television providers.

“An annual Dish TV package which comes with a bouquet of Indian channels costs between Rs4,000 (Dh250) which is less than what I pay monthly to licensed pay-TV operators. That said, I know the risks far outweigh the benefits,” said another Indian expat.

To remind residents of the dangerous consequences of TV privacy, the Department of Economic Development issued a notice in public interest sometime back. It read: “The advertisement, sale and/or distribution of television service by unlicensed, unauthorised and unlawful television service providers in the UAE is illegal.

“Dish TV/Tata Sky/Sun Direct/Airtel Digital TV are not authorised in the UAE, and the sale/use of their dishes, receivers and/or smart cards (or those of any other unauthorised operator) violates intellectual property rights and related laws of the UAE.

“Any person and/or business selling, using and/or promising the aforementioned illegitimate TV services will be contributing and fostering criminal activities, such as organised crime and is liable to fines and/or jail terms.”

Criminal liabilities arising from infringing intellectual property rights

Intellectual property law overlaps with criminal law in many ways, one of which is piracy of media content, according to Omar Khodeir, senior associate, litigation and Bassam Salah Al Azzeh, associate, intellectual property, at Al Tamimi & Company,

“This is one of the fastest-growing forms of criminal offence and breaches of intellectual property rights (‘IPR’) in the region. UAE traders who are often caught selling illegally unlocked set top boxes (receivers) and internet Protocol television (IPTV) decoders to consumers, which allow users to access exclusive TV channels, may face severe criminal penalties. These flow from several UAE laws that protect intellectual property, trademarks and copyright, such as the UAE’s Federal Copyright Law No. 7 for 2002, and Federal Trademark Law No. 37 for 1992 and its subsequent amendments. Additional and more severe penalties can be imposed if the offences are done through electronic platforms, making provisions of the Federal Law by Decree No. 5 of 2012 regarding Combating Cybercrimes, commonly known as the Cybercrime Law, also applicable.” they said in Al Tamimi & Company’s Law Update.

“In most scenarios, the traders or the perpetrators do not expect such severe penalties. However, these sentences show the seriousness with which the criminal courts treat breaches of laws affecting IPR. The operation of receiving the exclusive TV channels through the internet from somewhere out of the UAE and redistributing the same one at a commercial level to consumers within the UAE is a crime as per the UAE Federal Copyright Laws No. 7 for 2002 and the Federal Law by Decree No. 5 of 2012 regarding Combating Cybercrimes. With the aim to minimise the occurrence of such crimes, the UAE imposes specific regulations for this type to trade. With the understanding that those types of crimes adversely affect important sectors, such as the telecommunications sector, be it private or public, the courts tend to have a harsh approach towards anyone who breaches the laws regulating it,” the duo said.

Source: Al Tamimi and Company Law Update Magazine, ‘Criminal liabilities arising from infringing intellectual rights’, June/July 2017 edition