Dubai: Fighting a seemingly losing battle against illegal downloads and file-shares, music and movie distributors in the UAE have been given hope by a recent landmark judgment in the UK. Last week, the high court issued a ruling that the UK's ISPs should block users' access to the file-sharing portal Pirate Bay as it violates copyright laws.
The judgment follows an appeal by an industry grouping representing some of the leading music companies in the UK. Now the industry — or some elements within it — is looking to see whether this can be replicated elsewhere, including the UAE.
"Last year was a catastrophe for the retail side of the music business in the UAE and there's no need to search far and wide for the reason," said a senior industry executive representing one of the biggest music labels. "File-share and downloads have reached epidemic proportions here, so much so that the official music business did not even get a lift from any of the concerts held in the UAE last year and featuring world-renowned artists. It was never the case before."
It is the same state of affairs on the movie side. While audiences keep growing at the country's many cinemas — not surprising given its status as a prime entertainment pursuit — sales of movie title DVDs have taken a plunge all through 2011. It is believed that in the first quarter of this year, it took an even bigger hit. According to industry sources, informal talks are being sounded out with legal experts on how the UK judgment could be replicated here. If a broad consensus is built up, music labels might make a joint pitch to the authorities.
But it may not be a straight line connecting the UK experience with the situation here. "I don't think that a specific law [in the UAE] would be necessary to tackle file-sharing… provided that existing laws would be implemented," said Clotilde Iaia, consultant for intellectual property at the law firm of Taylor Wessing.
"Something in the culture of the country should change — infringing someone's copyright is like stealing. A musician spends months trying to find the perfect note and when he finally finds it and publishes the music, someone hacks it for the sole purpose of sharing it with others. "The price for music and movies, as for anything else, should be fair and affordable. However not paying for someone's work at all is also not fair and it is illegal."
In the UAE, the abiding law for intellectual property (IP) protection is Federal Law No. (7) of 2002 — or the Copyright Law — which would in theory protect authors.
While the regulatory regime that the law sets out is clear enough, putting it into practice takes some doing.
For a musician to enforce his IP rights here, he or she would need to register for the copyright of each of the songs produced in a year, according to Iaia. He or she would then need to make the rounds of each company, radio station, or tele-vision channel that uses their music and ask each of these entities to enter into a licensing agreement. Only then would musicians be able to receive payments for copyright fees.
The downside, and it's a major one, is that if someone infringes this right, the musician will have to take action against each of the violators and for each one of the tracks infringed on a separate basis.
"All of this will in the end cost him an amount of money which will reasonably be in the range of a few million dirhams per year," Iaia added.
And there is no industry grouping that can help either. "Although Section Six of the Copyrights Law governs the ‘Collective Administration of the Copyright and the Neighbouring Rights', under Article 30 and Article 32 of the Copyright Law, such an association does not exist in the UAE," said Iaia.
"The licence for such an association shall be issued by the Ministry of Economy and, so far, no licence has been granted. In practice authors are left with little protection. The single author will never have enough resources to concretely combat piracy in whatever form this is performed."
Keep in mind that in the recent legal engagement over Pirate Bay, the request to the court to intercede was done by the British Phonographic Industry.
The question is — will the voices of the official music and movie distributors on the IP issue be heard loud and clear in the UAE?