Text and Data Mining under Omani Copyright Law

Similar to the copyright laws of other Gulf states, the Omani copyright law adopts the exhaustive closed list system for copyright exceptions. This means that for a use of a protected work not to be considered an infringement, that use must fall under an explicitly stated exception under the copyright law. The fact that a use is personal, non-commercial, or accompanied by proper attribution, on its own, is not sufficient to protect the use against claims of copyright infringement. This is different from copyright laws that adopt a flexible copyright exception system, such as ‘fair use’ in the USA, where any use may be permitted, even if not explicitly mentioned in the law, as long as the use can be considered ‘fair’.

Copyright laws that adopt a flexible copyright exception, such as the US copyright law, are capable of enabling new innovative uses of technology without the need for the actual law to be amended, whereas copyright laws that adopted a closet list of exceptions, such as the Omani copyright law, are usually incapable of accommodating for new technological uses without amending the law.

An example of such a new technological use is the practice of ‘text and data mining’ – a research method that uses computer software to analyse massive amounts of data to look for interesting trends. As an illustration, text and data mining can examine thousands of medical records to identify links between certain symptoms and diseases in a way that cannot be done by a human individual. Similarly, such method can be used in the study of law to electronically analyse massive amounts of court decisions to identify trends and connections between different legal key terms. Due to the way text and data mining works, the computer software making the analysis must copy the data, at least temporarily. Because the Omani copyright law does not have an exception to permit copying in this specific case, text and data mining is considered an activity that violates copyright law if the permission of the author is not acquired. It is not practically possible to acquire permission for many text and data mining cases because the data is extremely massive in size and there is no way for the researcher to go and seek the permission of every single author of such data. If the data examined is public data on the internet, such as tweets or other user generated content, it might not be possible to even identify the author of the work.

This would not have been the case had the Omani copyright law adopted a flexible copyright exception like fair use. Under such a system, it would be possible to argue that text and data mining is permitted as long as the use satisfies the conditions for fair use. This does not only mean that legislators in countries like the USA do not have to waste their time amending the copyright law every time a new technology comes out, but this also makes the USA a much more attractive environment for the adoption of new technologies, such as text and data mining for research, because their law is flexible enough to permit it.

The copyright exceptions currently offered by the Omani copyright law are inadequate and do not satisfy some of the most basic needs of users in the country (we are the only country in the GCC that does not have a private use exception). Oman needs to have a text and data mining to enable the use of this method by researchers in the country. Oman should also reconsider the general way in which it implements exceptions under the copyright law and must seriously take into consideration the needs of the members of society when determining this issue.

DRM and the Balance of Copyright Law in Oman

Like all copyright laws around the world, the Omani copyright law is meant to draw a balance between the ability of the authors to make a living out of their craft on the one hand and the right of members of society have a fair and reasonable opportunity to access and use cultural works.

Continue reading DRM and the Balance of Copyright Law in Oman

Three Exceptions I Wish Omani Copyright Law Had

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.

Continue reading Three Exceptions I Wish Omani Copyright Law Had

Oman Needs Open Data

Open Data can provide great opportunities to Oman. The government has massive amounts of data about all aspects of life in the country that remain stored without ever getting used or, at best, remain constantly under-utilised.

As part of its normal way of conducting business, the government collects and creates a lot of information. This information includes basic details about the number of accidents that happen on the road, what time of the day they happened, and their exact location; the number of schools in the country, the number and age of students attending these schools; the number of mosques in each city; the locations of hospitals, forecast details, and so many other details about everything in the country. Continue reading Oman Needs Open Data

Oman: Copyright Country Profile

Current Copyright Law: 

  • Royal Decree No 65/2008 Issuing the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Law [مرسوم سلطاني رقم ٦٥ / ٢٠٠٨ باصدار قانون حقوق المؤلف والحقوق المجاورة]: Arabic Text + Amendment (2008)

Previous Copyright Laws:

  • Royal Decree No 37/2000 Issuing the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Protection Law [مرسوم سلطاني رقم ٣٨ / ٢٠٠٠ باصدار قانون حماية حقوق المؤلف والحقوق المجاورة]: Arabic Text
  • Royal Decree No 47/1996 Issuing Copyright Protection Law [مرسوم سلطاني رقم ٤٧ / ٩٦ باصدار قانون حماية حقوق المؤلف]: Arabic Text

 

Status of Voip Remains Uncertain in Oman

Eight months have passed since the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) has decided to unblock many of the Voice over IP (VoIP) services widely available on the Internet, but Skype still remains blocked with no official statement clarifying the current status of VoIP in Oman.

VoIP is not technically a banned service in Oman, but the TRA requires any company that wishes to provide such a service in the country to apply for a licence from the TRA and abide by all the rules and regulations of the telecom law. There are some companies which are licensed by the TRA to provide VoIP service in Oman, such as Nawras, which provides a number of dial-in services for making VoIP calls to certain countries.

The TRA had traditionally blocked all forms of VoIP services from being accessed by users of the Internet in Oman. The most famous of these services is Skype. The TRA argues that it will not allow Skype to operate without acquiring a license in Oman to protect many public interests such as the protection of consumers, the support of the employment of Omanis, the collection of tax and the enforcement of the state security requirements.

These justifications cannot be taken seriously because the same arguments can be made against all other forms of online businesses and communication tools, such as Amazon or Gmail, but nothing other than VoIP had been categorically blocked. It is widely believed that the decision to block Skype has been made to protect the financial interests of local ISPs who make a lot of profits by charging their users for international phone calls.

Earlier this year, the TRA ordered telecom companies to unblock certain VoIP services such as Viber, Google Talk, FaceTime, and others, but not Skype. There was no legal change in the regulation of VoIP in Oman, and the TRA has not made any official statement as to why it has chosen to unblock these specific services.

Rumour has it that the TRA is considering removing the technical restrictions for blocking access to VoIP operated by foreign companies and that it is testing the impact of the allowed services before unlocking everything else. However, more than half a year has passed now and an official statement is yet to be seen.

The topic of VoIP regulation has recently come back to the forefront as Microsoft has decided to discontinue its Live Messenger and integrate the chat functionality of it in Skype. Live Messenger is a popular application in Oman and the inability of people to communicate with their work partners, family and friends using Messenger could be an issue to these people.

The TRA needs to make up its mind on the VoIP matter. Many parents now rely on Viber to communicate with their children who are studying abroad. It is also not unlikely for some small and medium enterprises to consider using the currently available VoIP services to facilitate their business operations. Having these services blocked again can easily devastate many.

Spam Soon To Be Banned in Oman

The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority has finally decided to address the issue of spam in Oman and is now in the process of drafting new regulations that will make it illegal for anyone to send unsolicited advertisements by any electronic method in Oman without acquiring prior consent from the person to whom the advertisement is sent.

Spam has been slowly growing into a problem in Oman due to the realisation of many companies of the ease at which advertisements can be pushed to a large number of people at extremely low costs. Many companies see this as an opportunity to promote their products, but from the point of view of consumers, this constitutes a breach of their privacy and can affect the way they use e-mail and SMS. These messages can be extremely repetitive, irrelevant, sent at inappropriate times, impossible to block, and make it very difficult for users to reach messages that they need to read, when their inbox is filled with unsolicited spam advertisements.

The current law in Oman does not provide individuals the right to stop others from sending them unsolicited advertisements. The telecommunications law only prohibits offensive, untrue or harmful messages, and not genuine advertisements that were sent without consent. The Basic Law of the State is the closest document we have in Oman to a constitution. It guarantees many rights for individuals such as the right for the freedom of expression and right for religious freedom, but it does not guarantee privacy as a right for individuals in Oman.

A report by Symantec last year, claiming that Oman had the highest percentage of spam messages in the whole world coming into the country, led the TRA to make statements soon after that it will work on combating spam. TRA is now working on new regulations for combating spam that will make it illegal for any person in Oman to send advertisements by any electronic method to anyone without acquiring the explicit prior consent of that person, and anyone who violates these new regulations may be fined up to RO1,000.

TRA will consider a message to be spam message for which the sender will be penalised, even if only one message was sent to one person, as long as that message was an unsolicited advertisement. The only exception to this rule is when an existing relationship can be established between the sender and recipient, such as the relationship between a hospital and patient. Even in such circumstances, individuals will have the right to have such messages stopped and an offence would be committed if a message is sent after an individual has indicated his wish to not receive any more of these messages.

Even though it will be impossible to stop all spam messages coming into the country, it is a great development for Oman to have in place local regulations that ban the transmission of spam in the country and one which would help ensure that local companies do not participate in this unacceptable practice. It will also surely provide us consumers with great comfort knowing that we can use our e-mail accounts more efficiently and that we can finally stop these ridiculous SMS about the latest gym discounts.

The public consultation period for new spam regulations had just finished last week. It is unknown how long it would take TRA to issue these regulations, but when they do come, these regulations would surely fill a serious gap in the telecom regulatory framework in Oman.

Omani Freedom of Expression Online

The internet has enabled a lot of people from all around the world to communicate with others and has provided a platform for those without a voice to speak up and reach out for an international audience without any physical restriction, and just as much as it has brought the best of people in terms of creativity and innovation, it has also brought the worst of people as it enabled them to talk freely under the cape of anonymity.

I do not think that I am the only one who said some really strange things to people online which I will never dream of saying to their faces in real life. A visit to any public discussion board on the internet would show you how much people swear at others, make fun of them, and even maybe harass them. Many people forget that there are human beings behinds these nicknames with feelings that could get hurt.

The concept of freedom of expression is pretty new to the traditionally conservative Omani society, and the sudden explosion of opportunities opened by the web led some to assume that freedom of expression means that they have the right to say whatever they want, just because they can, without thinking about the consequences, but the truth is that there is nowhere in the world where freedom of speech is an unlimited right, because no matter what personal right a person has, it must not infringe on the rights of others.
In Oman, and many other countries, this right is restricted by some other legal principles such as defamation and breach of confidence. Defamation is generally defined as the act of spreading false information about a person which could harm that person’s reputation. This law is much stricter in Oman than in some other places like the UK or the USA as defamation is a criminal act and not merely a civil matter. In addition to this, there is no clear requirement in the law for the statement to be false for it to be offensive but merely requires it to have the consequence of damaging that person’s reputation.

Freedom of expression is further restricted by the law of the breach of confidence, if a person receives any information with a clear expectation to keep that information in confidence, that person would be under a legal duty not to disclose that information to anyone else. This is a general principle that applies to all sorts of information whether it was a private issue told between friends or a serious confidential document delivered in a professional capacity, for example, the medical records of a patient.

These two are examples of the most obvious restrictions to freedom of expression on the internet or otherwise, but are not the only ones, in Oman, the Telecommunication Law also provides for a number of other restrictions such as prohibiting the transmission of harmful and untruthful messages through any means of communication.

The perception of the internet as an unregulated medium that allows people to say anything they want is far from true, the legal system covers a wide number of instances where speech on the internet could be punishable, and with the development of new methods for tracking the visitors of a website, it becomes not too difficult to enforce these laws on the internet.

This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.

The Real Victims of Piracy

Even though almost ten years have passed since Oman got its first copyright law, most people still seem to have a strange self-entitlement to everything they find on the internet. The majority of people do not have any feeling of guilt when they illegally download any song, video, or game they did not pay for.

Oman, and many other Arab countries, are in a unique position that makes them detached from primary producers of popular digital content such as the US and Europe – who might not necessarily consider this region as a target for their music or computer programs. It is very difficult for foreign content producers to take legal action against infringers of copyright in Oman and it is impossible for the authorities to regulate illegal downloads on the internet (even though they somehow seem to always have the time and resources to block every single VOIP website they can find).

To the majority of people copyright infringement seems like a victimless crime: musicians and film makers in the US seem to be doing alright, they do not really expect to sell in Oman, of all places, much anyway, and even if these companies did make a loss, they are multinational institutions that can make money through a million other ways.

This makes it very difficult for our region to be taken seriously as a viable market for selling some copyright works. The result of this is that those of us who want to legally buy music in Oman find it very difficult to find any shop that can afford to continue stock up music CDs that nobody buys. Software products rarely ever get an official release in this region and there are no tech support or after sale services for such programs. The gaming industry is totally unregulated in this region and there is never any localization of game content.

The worst problem with piracy is that it makes it very difficult for local musicians, programmers, and game developers to be able to make money from creating local content in this market. Creating a polished work obviously requires money and investment, and you cannot make money from intellectual property works in a place where copyright is not respected. It is no wonder that there are no Omani video games or computer programs (genuine or otherwise) sold in any computer shop in the country.

Oman has had copyright law in place for about a decade now, but it is very difficult to enforce it because of the internet and the fact that content providers will find it very inconvenient to take cross-border legal action. Society itself must start respecting copyright and realize that the biggest loser in all of this is society itself, because if we do not encourage or reward creativity we will continue to only live off works made in other places in the world.

The situation in Oman is not totally hopeless because authorities have realized that the process to create respect for copyright must start from the bottom up, and as a result a special lesson about copyright has been added to the eleventh grade government school syllabus here in Oman in hope it makes students appreciate the importance of copyright and how piracy could be damaging. The college of law at SQU is also expected to start teaching intellectual property as part of the law degree curriculum. That by itself will not instantly make everyone respect copyright, but it is a step in the right direction.

Piracy in Oman on the Rise?

Piracy in Oman

A crazy article was published earlier this week on the UAE’s The National stating that game and software piracy in Oman is ‘resurfacing’. The article interviews a random Omani game shopkeeper who claims according to his own statistics that young people in Oman spend a total of a million Omani rials on pirated software on monthly basis. According to his statistics, the local economy loses 30 to 40 million rials a year because of pirated software.

There is no doubt that these stats are completely rubbish. The small time shop keeper somehow assumes that ‘young people’ go and buy physical disks to pirate their games and movies, when in reality the majority of illegal downloading obviously occurs over the internet and does not require young people to spend a 1,000,000 Omani rials.

The justifications made by this person for the ‘resurfacing’ of piracy are not only illogical, but they are simply false because expats can still work in computer shops and do sell computer games and software.

Being an honest gamer who buys legitimate games is very difficult in Oman, original games take months to arrive and when they do they are usually sold at astronomical prices. The article itself claims that it does not make sense for young people to pay RO 40 when the pirated copy costs RO 1. The truth is that even honest gamers find it unreasonable to pay RO 40 (more than $100) when the same exact disc is sold in the states for a MAXIMUM of $60.  Many gamers, including myself, choose to buy grey area imports and have it shipped from the US for a cheaper price, than buying the grey area imports sold in these stores for double the price.

I am really not sure that piracy in Oman is ‘resurfacing’ – because it really never went down. In the age of digital piracy and bitTorrent, the only solution to the problem would be through educating people about the impact piracy has on our own culture and economy. It is no wonder that there are no game developers in Oman when it is impossible to make profit of any game in this market.