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The FIFA IP Law : Qatar’s Ticket To A Booming Economy

SURANA & SURANA > SSIA  > The FIFA IP Law : Qatar’s Ticket To A Booming Economy

The FIFA IP Law : Qatar’s Ticket To A Booming Economy

FIFA IP Law

Chinna Aswathy Abraham, Associate, Dispute Prevention and Resolution Practice

S. Nagarjun, Student Intern

Introduction:

Organizing and staging a global sporting event is no small feat. The strategic use of trademarks and other commercial rights helps generate the revenue streams required to fund such events (1).With the increasing commercialisation of sports, large corporations and brands are keen on enhancing the fan experience by making sporting events accessible to every household, be it in the form of live broadcasting of these events or by way of sports merchandising. The Federation Internationale De Football Association (FIFA) World Cup is the world’s largest single-sport event and the World Cup of 2022 held in Qatar is deemed to be the most expensive world cup in history. This article seeks to explore in brief the IP law enacted by Qatar for the protection of the FIFA IP Rights and the role this crucial piece of legislation is expected to play in boosting Qatar’s local economy.

Need for FIFA IP Laws:

With respect to the World Cup, the FIFA grants a number of commercial rights, including broadcasting, ticketing, hospitality, advertising, and other promotional rights connected with the tournament to the various ‘rights holders’, such as the partners, sponsors, regional supporters etc.

The rights holders in turn provide FIFA with the financial assistance required to put up a tournament of such mammoth scale. To boost the value of each rights holder’s brand and to prevent it from being used by arbitrary individuals or organisations, exclusivity (2) must be granted. Hence, in order to prevent various un-authorised entities from indulging in activities like ambush marketing, counterfeiting, fraudulent ticket sales, etc., the Qatar Government enacted the FIFA IP Law No.11 of 2021 on the Protection of Trademarks, Copyrights and Related Rights of Federation Internationale De Football Association (FIFA), released by the Emir on 29th July, 2021 (‘FIFA IP Law’).

Rights Holders under the FIFA IP Law (2):

FIFA’s business model typically rests on a three-tier sponsorship system, with ‘FIFA Partners’ at the top, followed by the ‘World Cup Sponsors’ and the ‘National Supporters’ comprising the bottom tier. The FIFA Partners include corporations closely connected to FIFA and FIFA events and they endeavour to promote the expansion of world football. The Sponsors are the owners of the FIFA World Cup and Confederations Cup, while the National Supporters help advertise FIFA tournaments in their respective nations. In this regard, the FIFA Intellectual Property Guidelines (2) enumerate the package of rights granted to the various rights holders:

  • FIFA Partners: They enjoyed the most comprehensive package of global advertising, promotional, and marketing rights in relation to FIFA and other FIFA tournaments, including the World Cup Tournament. Eg: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Qatar Airways, VISA etc.
  • FIFA World Cup Sponsors:  FIFA World Cup Sponsors such as Byjus, Crypto.com, Mc-Donald’s, VIVO etc. were only allowed to advertise during the tournament but nevertheless enjoyed the second-most comprehensive worldwide rights package.
  • FIFA Regional Supporters: A bundle of advertising, promotional, and marketing rights in relation to the tournament was granted to up to 20 corporations, with a maximum of four companies per region.

This apart, there were ‘Media Rights Licensees’ who enjoyed television, radio, broadband, IPTV and mobile transmission rights for specific territories and regions. For instance Viacom18 was granted exclusive rights to broadcast the FIFA World Cup 2022 in the territories of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The FIFA also granted branded/unbranded licenses to companies to create, produce, and market goods carrying the official marks—called ‘Official Licensed Products’.

‘Branded Official Licensed Products’ are recognised goods that display the marks of the Licensee and the Official Intellectual Property. On the other hand official goods that only bear Official Intellectual Property are known as ‘Unbranded Official Licenced Products’ (2).

Subject-Matter of the FIFA IP Law:

The subject matter of the FIFA IP Law encompassed the various brand assets such as logos, words, titles, symbols, and other identifiers for the tournament.  These included the World Cup’s official emblem, official poster, official slogan, official trophy, official mascot and the mascot’s name. This apart, the FIFA corporate mark, FIFA living football claim, FIFA plus marks and other word marks are also covered under the IP Law (2).

Chapter 6 of Law No.10/2021 in particular governed FIFA’s commercial rights for the event and addressed the rights relating to broadcasting, musical works, logos, mascots and billboards. The law prohibited third parties from interfering with these rights by way of recording, selling, or imitating them, without a specific licence from FIFA. The registration and use of domain names involving FIFA’s IP rights without a licence was also prohibited. The law also granted FIFA the exclusive right to issue and sell tickets. The issue, re-selling, re-distribution or exchange of tickets without license was banned under the said law (3).  

Registration Process under the FIFA IP Law:

“All FIFA rights had to be registered either by FIFA directly or through an authorized agent.”(4). Article 3 of the FIFA IP law empowered  FIFA to request for information regarding the existence of a particular trademark, copyright or neighbouring right and also whether any application seeking registration has already been submitted. The Designated Office of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (“MOCI”) was required to conduct investigations and within three days notify FIFA of its findings.

If an application is made by FIFA seeking for the registration of a FIFA Trademark, the Designated Office must make a decision regarding FIFA’s request within 15 days of receiving the said application. Unless the particular trademark had already been registered in the State of Qatar, the Designated Office could not reject the registration request submitted by FIFA. FIFA had the right to submit a grievance with the Committee in this situation, and the Committee had to render a judgement within fifteen days.

The Designated Office was to take necessary steps to complete the registration and the publication of such registration in the newspapers once a decision was issued, either approving the registration or ruling in favour of FIFA in the event of a grievance filed in this regard.

Exemptions under the FIFA IP Law (4):

Interestingly FIFA was exempted from paying registration costs for its trademarks, works, audio recordings, performer’s rights and radio broadcasts. Whether or not FIFA’s trademarks were registered in Qatar, the FIFA IP Law recognised them as being “well-known”, provided they were protected in any country signatory to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.  This apart, the law exempted FIFA from filing a written statement pursuant to Article 45 of Law No. (7) Of 2002 on the Protection of Copyright and Neighbouring Rights.

Impact & Relevance:

Qatar’s Ministry of Justice declared that the punishment for the use of FIFA’s IP rights without license would be imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year and/or a fine not exceeding QAR 500,000.  This further ensured that businesses did not unwarrantedly associate themselves with the World Cup for economic gain. By granting the partners, sponsors, supporters and licensees, exclusive commercial rights, the FIFA IP Law was successful in protecting the interests of these rights holders. Recently even the Hon’ble Madras High Court in the case of Viacom18 Media Private Limited v Bharath Sanchar Nigam Limited and others (5) restrained more than 12,000 websites from showcasing the FIFA World Cup 2022 which was found to be infringing upon Viacom18’s exclusive copyright in the sporting event.

The 2018 World Cup held in Russia witnessed several instances of ambush marketing. Hence it was essential for FIFA to be vigilant about protecting the rights of its sponsors and partners. Qatar by simplifying the process for protecting the FIFA IP rights established itself as an ideal location for hosting the 2022 World Cup. In the months leading up to the World Cup, the FIFA published many awareness messages regarding the use of FIFA IP without the prior written consent of FIFA. A few of arrests were also made for sale of clothing items bearing the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 logo without approval (6). “Non-affiliated entities and individuals were averted from misusing FIFA’s rights and the FIFA IP Law became crucial in not only protecting IP rights but also in securing significant investments for the country” (7).

Qatar has consistently taken necessary steps to safeguard the IP rights of its partners and sponsors. The 2004, Law No. (27) was enacted by Qatar to protect the trademarks, logos, works and related rights for the 2006 Asian Games or the ‘Asiad XV’ (8). Qatar won the bid for hosting the 2022 World Cup back in 2010. Over the last 12 years, the country has been successful in bringing in investments through sponsorship deals, which in turn made it possible for Qatar to set up world-class, ultra-modern sports venues.(8) In its ‘National Vision 2030’ launched in 2008, Qatar sought to transform itself into a sustainable and thriving knowledge-based economy (9). Sports is also a core pillar of the National Vision 2030. In line with this vision, Qatar constructed a FIFA stadium entirely out of shipping containers, testament to the fact that innovative and sustainable sports infrastructure is an achievable goal (8). “As per certain reports, Qatar spent an estimated USD 220 billion since winning the bid in 2010 and these funds were used in building stadiums, reconstructing the old and also in the creation of airports, hotels and roads”(10). Apart from the sporting and infrastructure industries, hosting the 2022 World Cup has also led to significant developments in Qatar’s tourism, with the long-term effect being Qatar becoming a sought after tourist destination. The World Cup has also led to the creation of new jobs in key sectors like construction, real estate, and hospitality. along with the inflow of foreign investments, thereby resulting in huge economic growth for Qatar(11). 

References:

(1) World Intellectual Property Organization, ‘Intellectual Property and Sports: Tracing the Connections’ <https://www.wipo.int/ip-outreach/en/ipday/2019/ip_sports.html> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(2) ‘FIFA Intellectual Property Guidelines, Version 6.0’ <https://digitalhub.fifa.com/m/6c082ee6ab7bc802/original/FIFA-World-Cup-Qatar-2022_IP-Guidelines_EN.pdf> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(3) Nick White, ‘Qatar passes new IP laws to protect FIFA World Cup rights’ <https://www.sportbusiness.com/2022/07/nick-white-qatar-passes-new-ip-laws-to-protect-fifa-world-cup-rights> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(4) Al-ansari & Associates, ‘Qatar Issues a Law on the Protection of FIFA’s Intellectual Property Rights’<https://www.alansarilaw.com/qatar-issues-a-law-on-the-protection-of-fifas-intellectual-property-rights-2/> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(5) Viacom18 Media Private Limited v Bharath Sanchar Nigam Limited and Ors,                   2022 SCC OnLine Mad 5390.

(6) Gulf Times, ‘Five arrested for sale of clothes bearing the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 logo without approval’ <https://www.gulf-times.com/story/716888/five-arrested-for-sale-of-clothes-bearing-the-fifa-world-cup-qatar-2022-logo-without-approval> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(7)  Akriti, ‘Qatar’s New IP Enactment for FIFA World Cup’ 2022<https://blog.mikelegal.com/trademark/qatars-new-ip-enactment-for-fifa-world-cup-2022/> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(8)  Catherine Jewell, ‘Sports diplomacy, nation branding and IP go hand in hand in Qatar’<https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine_digital/en/2022/article_0003.html> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(9) General Secretariat for Development Planning, ‘Qatar National Vision – 2030’ <https://www.gco.gov.qa/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/GCO-QNV-English.pdf> accessed on 2nd February, 2023.

(10) Focus Economics, Will the world cup bring home an economic win for Qatar<https://www.focus-economics.com/blog/posts/will-the-world-cup-bring-home-an-economic-win-for-qatar> accessed on 7th February, 2023.

(11) Western University, Canada, FIFA 2022: The Benefits for Qatar and Potential Risks, <https://www.democracylab.uwo.ca/Archives/2017_2018_research/construction_in_qatar/fifa_2022_the_benefits_for_qatar_and_potential_risks.html> accessed on 7th February, 2023.

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