Like the majority of countries around the world, Oman does not have a concept of “fair use” in its copyright law. The default position under copyright law is that any use of a copyrighted work requires the prior permission of the author, even if that use is private, non-commercial, or does not affect the interests of the author. To ensure that the rights of the author do not restrict the ability of society to enjoy culture and exercise certain fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, copyright law permits the public to use copyrighted works in certain circumstances without the need to acquire the permission of the author.
In countries that have a “fair use” principle, like the USA, the law sets the general guidelines for identifying what these “fair use” circumstances are without explicitly specifying them. Most other countries in the world, including Oman, do not have a “fair use” principle. The copyright law in these countries has an exhaustive list of exceptions that permit the public to use the works without the permission of the author. The lack of “fair use” principle makes the law inflexible. If the law does not explicitly mention an exception, then that use would be an infringement of copyright law even if that use is required for freedom of expression, education, or for any other societal need.
The Omani copyright law is one of the most restrictive copyright legislations in the region, especially after it was amendment to satisfy the requirements of our Free Trade Agreement with the USA. This has made many of the ways in which we normally deal with copyrighted works an infringement under the law even though they do not necessarily harm the interests of rights-holders. This of course does not mean that Omani people are being taken to court for copyright infringement, but the impossibility of applying the law at the level of the individual directly contributes in making society have no respect for copyright law.
Having a “fair use” principle provides the law with a great level of flexibility that enables it to adapt to changes in technology and industry that are impossible to foresee by the lawmakers. However, it is difficult to argue that Oman should have a “fair use” style exception because the understanding of the scope of the exception requires a litigious community and a lot of activism on the side of the judges, both of which are not features of Omani society. Reporting of court decisions is also extremely poor in Oman making it difficult for scholars and practitioners to gauge the scope of a “fair use” exception. It is more realistic to introduce new exceptions to the current law and/or delegate the authority of introducing new exceptions to the Minister of Commerce and Industry to make updating the exceptions easier instead of having them set by royal decree.
There are many exceptions which are badly needed in the Omani copyright law. Here are the three I see as mostly needed in the Omani copyright law:
- Personal use exception: Oman is the only GCC country that does not have any sort of personal use exception in its copyright law. This means that copying a music CD you legally bought to your computer is an infringement of copyright law. Similarly, saving an image from the internet to use as your desktop wallpaper and recording something you see on TV to watch later is also an infringement of copyright law. Even Bahrain, a country that has also signed an FTA with the US, has this extremely basic and fundamental copyright exception.
- Photography of works permanently publicly displayed: there is no clearer illustration of how common sense is not very common than the fact that copyright law makes it illegal to photograph buildings and architectural works around us without acquiring the permission from the copyright owner. Copyright does not only protect against literal copying of a work (i.e. copying a building by constructing another building), but also the adaptation of it into other formats (e.g. creating a film out of a novel or creating a 2D version of a 3D work). One of the reasons why photography is extremely popular in Oman is because we have tons of gorgeous buildings, mosques, and palaces – but if we were to abide by copyright law, we would practically not be photographing any modern building around us because almost everything was built in the last 40 years and is within the term of copyright protection. Some countries allow the photography of architectural works only if done by the press and only if the building is incidentally shown in the footage, in my opinion photographing works permanently displayed in public should be allowed for everyone and for any reason.
- Using photos and audio-visual works for the purpose of news reporting: individuals, newspapers, and tv channels in Oman will show images and videos of breaking news no matter what. Copyright needs to acknowledge that this is how the industry in Oman operates. Due to the way social media operates, it is not easy to find the original source of the image, and if we had to wait for that to happen newspapers and tv channels will only be able to show footage of really old news. Currently the law only allows reporting small segments of information which are considered daily news, but this should clearly include all kinds of protected works and not just text.
These are the mostly needed copyright exceptions to make the law in Oman realistic. There are certainly many other exceptions needed to facilitate learning, access of works to the blind, and many other activities that society needs in order to enjoy fair and reasonable access to knowledge and culture.