Strengthening Copyright Protections in the Middle East

In Growth Markets by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Copyright Symposium

ABU DHABI: “Copyright is the legal principle that expresses society’s respect for authors and publishers, and protects the commercial interest in their creation,” said, Herman P. Spruijt, President of the International Publishers Association (IPA), at the IPA Copyright Symposium which took place this past Sunday and Monday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “It is at the heart of the relationship between authors and publishers,” he added.

More than 250 people from 53 countries attended the event — a respectable number, particularly when compared with previous session in Montreal, Canada which drew 350 people, the earlier session in Accra, Ghana which drew just 100.

“The fact that the IPA has come to Abu Dhabi is another vote of confidence that we are advancing the professionalization of publishing in the Arabic-language region,” said Dr. Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Directors of the Abu Dhabi Authority of Culture and Heritage.

The sentiment was echoed by Jens Bammel, Secretary General of the IPA, who pointed out that “part of the reason that we came to Abu Dhabi was to help introduce publishers in the region to address issues that we in the rest of the world deal ad infinitum every day — topics such as collective licensing and open access — but we also wanted the world to see what was happening here.”

Part of the attraction of holding the event in the UAE is that Abu Dhabi has demonstrated a willingness to put institutional muscle behind the protection of copyright, both through the rule of law and the example of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which has banned the exhibition of pirated materials and is working toward ensuring all titles on display bear ISBN numbers.

H.E. Eng. Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz Al Shehhi, Under-Secretary, Ministry of Economy for the UAE, remarked, “We want to turn the UAE into a safe haven for creators and innovators.” To this end the UAE has instituted harsh punishment for those caught infringing intellectual copyright, including fines ranging from 10,000 to 500,000 dirhams per offense, jail time of two to nine months, and loss of a company’s operating license for six months.

As further proof that advances in copyright protections were spreading through the region, Mohamed Abdel Latif, President of the Arab Publishers Association (APA), noted that “The United States has recently deleted the name of Saudi Arabia from the blacklist of countries guilty of piracy. There is now a stronger understanding the importance of intellectual property.” The issue of how Sharia Law traditions cope with modern-day copyright concepts was addressed on the first day, with a panel of scholars who agreed that there was no clear consensus on the issue, but that the “intellectual rights were rooted in Islamic culture.”

Marybeth Peters, register of copyrights at the United States Library of Congress, noted that she’d been working on copyright issues for the better part of 45 years and felt that “copyright is a success story for the rule of law…a vital and important force for our culture,” but in some ways “was a victim of its own success: public expectations of access to information are unbelievable high.” She encouraged publishers to engage the public on the issues. “Copyright must be seen as a good thing, not something that is overreaching and not in the public interest,” she said.

Over the two days of presentations and panels it emerged that the copyright debate continues to revolve around striking a balance between the rights of an author and publisher to benefit from their works and the right of the public to that knowledge. This was addressed to varying degrees in the sessions, which covered everything from “open access” for scientific journals, to copyright exclusions for the blind, to piracy, the Google Book Settlement, and e-books.

Digital publishing will continue to be a frontline battleground for copyright issues, and will have an impact on authors and publishers in Arabic-speaking countries, but not before other more fundamental matters are addressed, such as the continuing development of a rights market for books and the establishment of a more efficient distribution system.

All told, it appears the respect for and understanding of copyright is gaining a firmer foothold in the region, in part thanks to organizations like the IPA.

As Bachar Chebar of the Arab Scientific Publisher of Lebanon pointed out, “Twenty-five years ago, nobody considered translating a foreign language book into Arabic piracy. It was only piracy if you reprinted that translated book. Now we know different.”

VISIT: The Web site for the 2010 IPA Copyright Symposium.

READ: The blog from the 2010 IPA Copyright Symposium and the Abu Dhabi Book Fair, which starts today.

DISCUSS: Do books need a warning label to ward off pirates?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.