INTAJ demands end to software censorship

Fifty year-old laws are hindering Jordan’s attempts to become software development hub.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  May 8, 2002

|~||~||~|INTAJ has been working with Jordan’s Ministry of Information & Communications Technology on a number of areas of legislation designed to attract more technology companies to the country.

Following the recent revision of Jordan’s labour law and significant changes to intellectual property rights (IPR) legislation, the lobby group is currently tackling the thorny issue of software censorship.

Currently, any multimedia that enters the country has to be examined in accordance with laws established in the 1950s and 1960s. In practice this means shrink wrapped packages are torn apart and protective wrappings breached. The software is then uploaded and its multitude of files examined.

According to Raed Bilbessi, CEO of INTAJ, this process harms retailers as the public and private sectors have been warned against purchasing already open software due to the possibility of receiving pirated materials.

“We have consumers convinced that they should buy original software, but when they go to the retailer the packages are open. If they refuse to buy it then they do not get the software and the retailer loses money,” he explains.

In addition to harming retail sales, the existing software cencorship laws are having a serious affect on Jordan’s ambition of becoming a software development hub. The delay in receiving development tools, which can often be up to one month. This means that companies are lagging behind firms in other countries that do not have to deal with such regulations.

“If you have three months to deliver the project then you are already one month behind. You miss your deadlines and you get into all sorts of payment issues with your clients. It is a nightmare,” says Bilbessi.

“Furthermore, users may get their censored media back, open it up and find a bunch of Microsoft CDs in their Oracle package because somebody has confused them. It is really dumb because in XP, for instance, there are thousands of encrypted files so how can you even find out what is in those files?” he adds.

INTAJ’s proposed reforms, should they be ushered in, will speed the process up considerably. Software houses will be able to fill out forms before shipments arrive declaring that, to the best of their knowledge, the media they are receiving contains nothing illegal.

Although the proposals being discussed may leave the door open for potential abuse, those caught breaking the law will be severely punished.

“If you are found to be circulating this [illegal] material you will not be fined JD1000 but JD50,000. It will destroy people. The reason is that if you allow this kind of freedom you have to have severe penalties. With freedom comes liability,” comments Bilbessi.

Although implementing an IT aware legal framework removes certain obstacles for the Jordanian technology industry, it is only the start. Educating both users and the business community is the real key.

“This is where public relations comes in. For example, the IPR law that we have is in place but do the judges understand it and is the legal system able to implement it? To make sure that this is the case the Ministry of Information & Communications Technology and INTAJ are launching a huge campaign for the business sector, for the legal system and for the government.”

These campaigns will be based around the business benefits the modified legal system has to offer. Rather than a series of staid seminars where reluctant attendees are preached at by a legal team, INTAJ and the Ministry of Information & Communications Technology are establishing a number of multi-day initiatives.

“The business community only understands the information if you give them practical examples and you can translate that to monetary value... We will point out where they can benefit from the laws and how it affects their costs,” explains Bilbessi.

Bilbessi and INTAJ hope that an altered software cencorship law will draw further financial investment to the country. “We are asking people to come and invest in Jordan because we want to increase our expertise and create jobs. However, this it is not going to happen unless we have the legislative environment in place,” he says.||**||

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