Legal Download 2.0 - Copyright in the digital age

Content protection in the digital age requires a greater degeree of awareness says Joycia Young

Tags: DLA Piper Middle EastUnited Arab Emirates
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By  Joycia Young Published  September 2, 2008

Welcome to the Digital Age… where it is out with terrestrial TV, landline telephones, mail order catalogues and CD collections and in with YouTube, i-phones, ebay and itunes.

Digital formats, that is content recorded in computer readable form, now dominate the media industry, but can expose content owners to a higher risk of unauthorised use. In the digital age, large volumes of content can be copied perfectly and disseminated rapidly, whether or not this has been permitted by the rights holder.

The UAE has responded to the threat of online copyright by including references to digital content in its copyright law (Federal Law No. 7 of 2002, "Copyright Law") along with introducing a specific law regarding cyber crime control (Federal Law No. 2 of 2006 "Cyber Crime Law") to tackle online offences.

In order to protect their rights in this new environment, it is vital that content owners are aware of the issues regarding the exploitation and protection of their works in the digital world.

Old principles, new law

Despite the emphasis on new media, digital content is essentially traditional content (film, music, artistic works, written word) delivered in a new way. Therefore, owners of digital content can still look to traditional copyright law principles to protect, exploit and enforce the rights in their original works. As with traditional content, the creator of original digital material is considered to be the author and has an exclusive right to exploit and protect their works under UAE law.

But times are changing with new laws and tougher regulation being introduced in the UAE to better deal with the issues arising with content in the digital world. For example, the Cyber Crime Law protects rights owners from new-age offences such as cyber squatting (using misspelt trade names as domain names to piggyback on the goodwill of a brand) and the hacking of decoders for satellite television and software piracy.

Digital exploitation

The internet has proved to be an extremely lucrative platform for content owners to exploit their works.

The UAE Copyright Law is reasonably well adapted to its new online environment and provides for and protects the exploitation of work, by the author, "by way of copying including downloading… and publication in any manner including presentation via computers or… communication networks or any other medium". If any such digital exploitation has not been authorised by the author or copyright holder, this will constitute an infringement of copyright. The author can enforce his rights by applying for a court order for damages or suspension of the unauthorised exploitation, with penalties starting from a fine of AED10,000 and a two month prison term.

New media, new issues

Digital technology and downloading means that content can be illegally copied and disseminated worldwide at the touch of a button, often with no obvious trace of the offender.

It is perhaps the ease of publicising and downloading copyright protected material online, without the author's approval, that has fuelled a commonly-held view that it is acceptable to do so. YouTube is a fantastic practical illustration, with sections of copyrighted content such as TV shows and music videos available to view for free, without the right holders' authorisation. Although clips are limited to ten minutes in an attempt to reduce the risk of infringement, there is no 'substantial copying' concept in the UAE and therefore it is possible that even posting a ten second clip of a copyright protected work without permission constitutes copyright infringement.

Hacking has also become more imaginative with internet users now able to log on to remote servers and download infringing software to decrypt and intercept the broadcast of copyrighted pay TV channels such as Showtime and Orbit.

Policing online content

Due to the immense size of the internet, and the masses of users, it has proved difficult to monitor and control online use. This problem has led to the development of new techniques of online copyright protection.

The most common form of policing digital content is the use of Digital Rights Management (or DRM as its better-know abbreviation), a method of controlling the number of times specific content can be downloaded and copied, and who can perform such acts. iTunes has successfully used DRM to prevent songs being copied onto more than five devices, and therefore has limited the potential for unauthorised and excessive copying of music content. Whilst the DRM policeman has been welcomed by content owners, legitimate purchasers of content have widely objected to the greater restrictions being placed on digital content than on traditional content.

Content owners should be aware that DRM is by no means fool proof and once the technology is decoded, the content is once again exposed to the risk of unauthorised use. Some comfort can be found in the UAE Copyright Law which has attempted to prevent the unscrambling of DRM technology by prohibiting the creation of devices which are designed to foil DRM (or similar copyright protection methods), penalised with hefty fines of up to AED500,000 and imprisonment of at least three months.

Enforcement in cyber space

The UAE has taken a hardline approach with the enforcement of online copyright. In March 2008, an individual was prosecuted in the Dubai courts for illegally downloading and broadcasting TV programs on his website and fined AED 10,000. The individual was found to have violated the UAE Copyright Law and also the Cyber Crime Law which prevents the hacking of material online. This approach to enforcement combined with a copyright law which acknowledges rights in digital content demonstrates that the UAE law is capable of offering some protection to owners of digital content.

Be aware…

Rights holders and copyright infringers alike should be aware that the online world is raises a number of serious and complex issues regarding the need to protect copyright in the digital age.

The author, Joycia Young, is Partner and Head of IP for the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, DLA Piper Middle East

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