Copyright is an important branch of intellectual property which seeks to extend protection to any innovative and original works which inter alia include any literary, artistic and musical work/s. As a part of reforming its intellectual property regime, in the year 2021, the UAE Federal Government, the Ministry of Economy, had inter alia issued an amended version of the Copyright and Neighboring Rights law vide Federal Decree-Law No. (38) of 2021 abrogating the earlier Federal Decree-Law No. 7/2002. The new law came into force as of 02nd January 2022.
Salient features of the UAE Copyright law
We have enumerated below some of the highlights which outlines the scope of application of the said law.
1- It provides for specified list of ‘Works’ which form subject matter of protection comprising the following:
- Books, brochures, articles and other written works.
- Smart applications, computer programmers and applications, databases and similar works determined by a decision of the Minister.
- Lectures, speeches, oral and written sermons and other works of a similar nature.
- Theatrical works, musical shows and pantomimes.
- Musical works either with or without words.
- Audio, visual, or audio-visual works.
- Architectural works (of which copyright vests with owner of the property unless expressly agreed otherwise), and engineering drawings and plans.
- Works of drawing with lines or colors, sculpting, engraving, printing on stone, fabrics, wood, or metals and any other similar works.
- Works of Photography and similar works.
- Works of applied and plastic arts.
- Illustrations, geographical maps, sketches, and three-dimensional works related to geography, topography, architecture and others.
- Derivative works without prejudice to the protection granted to the original Works from which these Works were derived.
2- It also specifies those subject matter/s, as enlisted below, which are not covered by Copyright protection. However, these shall be accorded Copyright protection if any expression thereof, or any effort deployed in their arrangement and compilation, is innovative.
- Working methods.
- Mathematical concepts.
- Principles and abstract facts.
- Official documents, regardless of their original language, or the language transmitted to them such as texts of laws, regulations, decisions, international agreements, judicial rulings, arbitrators’ awards and decisions issued by administrative committees having a judicial jurisdiction.
- News and reports of current incidents and events of a purely informative nature.
- Works which are in public domain.
3- Article 5 of the law specifically provides for moral rights in favor of Author/s which are enjoyed perpetually such as:
- Deciding first publication of his work.
- right to have his/her name on the work.
- Prohibiting any modification of the Work if it distorts its originality or is harmful or detrimental to the reputation of the author.
- Submitting a request to the Civil Court to withdraw the Work from circulation based on justifiable reasons. However, smart application, computer programs and applications form an exception to the said rule.
4- The law also provides for transfer and licensing of the economic rights of the Author in the Work to any third party for monetary consideration which can either be in the form of share in the revenue resulting from utilization of these rights or a lump sum or a combination of both. Author shall remain owner of all those economic rights which have not been explicitly assigned.
5- Articles 17, 18 and 19 further provides for exclusive economic rights of:
- Producers of Phonograms.
- Broadcast Organizations.
6- The protection period granted to the author of Work/s is throughout his lifetime and for a period of 50 years thereafter which is to commence on the first day of the calendar year following the year of his death. For joint Authors it is to commence from the following year the last surviving author dies.
7- Where more than one person contributes to the creation or formation of the Joint Work in such a manner where it is impossible to separate the share of each of them from those of other/s, then all joint Authors shall be deemed to be the equal authors of the Work. The exception to this rule is the presence of written agreement between the Joint owners of Work which clearly marks out respective contribution and shares.
8- The law also provides for Author’s economic rights in relation to third parties. If the Author creates Work for the benefit of other, the Copyright belongs to the person in whose favor it was created. In such cases we need to assess whether any such contract by virtue of which the Work is created is result of contract of service or contract for service as any copyright in the former contractual relationship vests with the person under whose instructions or employment the Work was created. In agreements involving contract for service, the copyright shall vest with the party who is engaged to create the original work/s without using any information or tools of the other party who engages the former. Also, if the employee or worker creates the Work that is not related to the business of the employer and does not use employer’s experiences, information, tools or raw materials in developing an innovation, the employee or worker shall retain Copyrights in the work so created.
9- The law stipulates formation of the Grievance Committee for Copyright and Neighboring rights which shall comprise specialized Judge nominated by the Minister of Justice and two specialists chosen by the Minister. It shall adjudicate grievances filed by the interested parties against the decision issued by the Ministry. An appeal against the decision of the Grievance Committee shall be filed before the Competent court within 30 days from the date of being notified.
10- Customs authority is also empowered under this law not to clear any consignment, of any materials in violation of the provisions of this Decree-Law, through a reasoned decision, on their own or at the request of an author, the rights holder, their successors, or their representatives, for a maximum period of 20 days. However, they may allow inspection of such materials.
Penalties under Law
11- Penalties imposed towards violation of copyrights involving infringement of moral and economic rights include imprisonment for a period of no less than 2 months and a fine of no less than 10,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 2,700) and not more than 100,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 27,000) or either of these two penalties. In case of recidivism, the penalties shall be enhanced with imprisonment of no less than 6 months and a fine of no less than 100,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 27,000) and not more than 500,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 135,000).
12- Penalties have been imposed towards unlawfully manufacturing or importing, for the purpose of sale, rental and/or circulation of:
- Any counterfeit Work or copies thereof,
- Any apparatuses, equipment, devices, or material specially designed or prepared for defrauding protection or technology used by the author.
- Unlawfully disrupting or impairing any technical protection or electronic data,
- Downloading or storing in the computer any copy of computer program or applications or databases without obtaining license from the author.
The above shall attract imprisonment for a period of no less than 6 months and a fine of no less than 100,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 27,000) and not more than 700,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 189,000) or either of these two penalties.
13- In case of repeat offence, the penalties shall be enhanced with imprisonment of no less than 9 months and a fine of no less than 500,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 135,000) and not more than 1,000,000 Dirhams (approx. USD 271,000).
The provisions of the law provide much clarity on regulating the Copyright/s regime in the UAE. It is quite comprehensive as it aims to provide protection specifying the subject matters which would attract such a protection and those which will not. Further, it seeks to protect the moral and economic rights of the author, the Performers as well as the exclusive economic rights of the Producers of Phonograph and Broadcasting Organisation/s. The law also provides for transfer and licensing of such rights to third parties. Interestingly, the law provides for setting up of the Grievance Committee with the objective of looking into any complaints arising thereof. Furthermore, the penalties and fines have been substantially revised which are likely to act as a deterrent factor for the infringers vis-à-vis any nefarious activity and thus safeguard the interest of the authors and holders of the Copyrights. Overall, the law would benefit and encourage nationals, residents, and foreign authors to create and seek protection for their original work/s in the UAE and at the same time, also give much needed impetus to originality and innovation.
Rajiv Suri is a senior associate in the intellectual property and corporate and commercial team at Alsuwaidi & Company. Rajiv advises clients on strategies involving a wide range of intellectual property matters and has been involved in managing corporate portfolios across various industries.