Last month, the Sultan of Oman issued a brand new constitution that made the headlines for setting a new mechanism for the succession of power and for designating a crown prince. However, something that was overshadowed by these groundbreaking developments is the recognition of the right to private life in Article 36 of this new constitution – a right that was not previously recognised in such a manner in Oman.
The Ministry of Technology and Communications has very recently issued a circular announcing the release of the government’s new Open Data Policy. This policy sets the general framework that government entities must follow when releasing their data to the public in a way that should maximise the ability of businesses, journalists, members of the public, and other government entities to benefit from government data.
We missed a small development on the intellectual property side of the Qatar diplomatic crisis in the GCC. Several months ago, Qatar attempted to take control of the domain name beoutq.se, but its attempt was not successful.
Qatar is taking a variety of actions to stop the illegal broadcasting of the signal of beIN Sports by beoutQ – a pirate sports TV network intended to provide sports fans in Saudi and Bahrain with an alternative to watching beIN Sports. In both of these countries, beIN Sports has been officially banned as part of their ongoing feud with Qatar.
In addition to the variety of legal complaints Qatar is making against Saudi, Bahrain, and the UAE in regard to their failure to allow Qatari rights-holders to enforce their intellectual property rights in connection with the infringement of beIN Sports trademarks and broadcasting rights, Qatar made a separate small attempt at taking control of one of the domain names from which
The Office of the United States Trade Representative just issued the Special 301 Report for 2018 – an annual report by the government of the United States that identifies claimed shortcomings of intellectual property laws of foreign countries. This year’s report continues to list Kuwait on the ‘Priority Watch List’ and adds Saudi and the UAE to the ‘Watch List’.
Even though Kuwait has issued a brand new copyright law in 2016, the United States is not still satisfied with this law in regard to ‘the term of protection; limitations on the amount of work reproduced; enforcement, remedies, and damages; and definitions’. According to this report, ‘Kuwait is in the process of drafting amendments to the Law’.
The United States is not happy with the extent to which Saudi grants ‘marketing approvals to domestic companies to produce generic versions of pharmaceutical products that are under patent protection either in Saudi Arabia or in the GCC’. There is also apparently a ‘continued use of unlicensed software by the government’.
In the UAE, the United States has ‘concerns about combatting the sale and transshipment of counterfeit goods’, especially those relating to physical counterfeit markets in the UAE and the lack of IP enforcement mechanisms within free trade zones. The United States also demands that UAE starts granting ‘the necessary operating licenses to establish [collecting management organisations (CMOs)] to allow copyright licensing and royalty payments’. According to this report, trademark filing fees in UAE ‘are the highest in the world and considered cost-prohibitive to protecting trademarks in the UAE’. Finally, the report complains about UAE officials allowing ‘domestic manufacture of generic versions of pharmaceutical products still under patent protection in the United States’, and has questions about ‘whether the UAE intends to continue to recognize patents granted by the GCC Patent Office’.
While Kuwait has been listed in every single edition of the Special 301 Report, this is the first time the UAE is ever included in it. The last time Saudi was listed is 2009 – almost a decade ago.
This report has no legal power of its own, but it is used by the United States to lobby countries around the world to change their laws to make them more protective of IP rights owned by American corporations.
Photo credits: “Kuwait City” by Meshal Alawadhi – CC BY-NC 2.0
As a follow-up to my previous post, I think it is important to address the problem of inconsistent spelling in Oman in general because Sohar is not the first or the last city name/brand to be harmed by arbitrary spelling changes. It only takes a day’s drive anywhere in Oman to notice the randomness of how names of Omani places are spelt. Spelling nightmares in Oman range from major cities such as Sohar, Seeb (as Sib, al-Seeb), and Matrah (Mutrah, Muttrah), to neighbourhoods in the heart of the capital such as Athaiba (Azaiba, Odaiba, Al-Athaiba) and Mabaila (Mabela).
It’s been almost a year since the new spelling of Sohar – with a ‘U’ instead of ‘O’ (Suhar) – started appearing on the highways in Oman. I, like many other people, have been extremely annoyed by this arbitrary change to the spelling of the name of my beloved hometown. This change in the spelling is not only annoying, but it is harmful to the identity of the city and to many businesses that are based in Sohar or have the word Sohar as part of their registered trademark names.
I wrote a column for Muscat Daily a while ago on the new arbitrary restrictions imposed on the registration of Omani (.om) domain names, but after I wrote this column I discovered that these restrictions are not completely arbitrary as the TRA has specified in the Omani Domain Name Regulations of 2012 a list of categories of prohibited domain names that may not be registered in Oman on technical, legal, moral, or social grounds. Even though this list has been around since 2012, I do not believe that it was actually enforced in the same way it is done now because I was able to register my domain name (riyadh.om) in 2015 without any issues. According to the Omani Domain Name Regulations, my domain name falls under a prohibited category because it also happens to be the name of a geographical location, and the registration of the names of capital cities is now not possible through any of the accredited registrars (such as Omantel). For example, amman.om, cairo.om, and doha.om are all unavailable for registration, not because someone has already registered them, but because they are restricted names. This can be verified using the .om WHOIS service.
Membership to the GCC has legal implications on all aspects of life and commerce in the Gulf – including intellectual property. Even though the GCC is not as deeply integrated as the EU, the GCC still has a body that issues a region-wide intellectual property right (the GCC Patent Office), has some intellectual property laws that apply across the entire region (e.g. the GCC Trade Mark Law), and has a legal instrument that recognises intellectual property as a fundamental right (the Gulf Declaration of Human Rights). With no solution to the crisis in sight, it is important to take a moment to consider what this crisis means for GCC intellectual property law and how it affects Qatari rights-holders.
The Creative Commons announced yesterday the release of the official Arabic translation of v 4.0 of the Creative Commons licence suite. I was fortunate to be a member of the translation team and I would like to share some of the lessons we learnt from doing this project.
The Creative Commons licences are legal tools that allow creators and content owners to legally make their works available for use and remixing in a way that overcomes the restrictions imposed on culture by copyright law. The Creative Commons has transformed the way creative works are legally shared as there today over a billion works licensed under Creative Commons and which can be legally downloaded and shared from platforms such as Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, and others. The international Creative Commons licences became available in Arabic only now, but there are already many Arabic language websites that use them including official government websites, such as Al-Meezan by the Government of Qatar, as well as non-governmental websites, such as 7iber in Jordan.
Even though a previous version of the Creative Commons licenses (v 3.0) had an Egyptian adaptation that was available in Arabic, this new Arabic translation is the first global Arabic language Creative Commons licence that is not tied to a specific jurisdiction. The need to make this Arabic translation universal made this project extremely challenging as there are 17 different Arabic-language copyright laws in the Arab World that use different terminologies for even the most basic copyright concepts. For example, the term ‘copyright work’ translates to مصنف (Musannaf) in some countries and to عمل (Ammal) in others. The same goes for other core copyright terms such as originality, reproduction, adaptation, and circumvention.
Fortunately, Arabic is one of the official languages of the United Nations, which means that international copyright treaties are adopted in Arabic. The existence of an Arabic text of an international nature provided us with a neutral authority that we can rely upon in choosing the most appropriate term for our translation. Therefore, we relied upon the text of the Berne Convention, the WCT, the Marrakesh VIP Treaty, and the Beijing Treaty as our primary authority for translating copyright terms. For terms that we could not find in these treaties, we looked at the 17 different copyright laws available in the Arab World and considered the frequency of how often a term appeared as the basis for choosing one over another.
This approach provided us with a systematic approach to translation, but it was not very easy to follow. The Arabic text of the international copyright treaties is not consistent. For example, the term ‘reproduce’ is translated as نسخ (naskh) in Berne, Marrakesh, and Beijing, but as استنساخ (istinsakh) in the WCT, the term ‘distribute’ is translated as يوزع (yuwazzi’) in the WCT, Marrakesh, and Beijing, but as تداول (tadawul) in Berne, and the term ‘circumvent’ is translated as تحايل (Tahayul) in the WCT and Beijing, but as تفادي (Tafadi) in Marrakesh. In some cases, there was no consistency even within the same treaty. In cases where a most commonly used term could not be identified, the translation team voted on the most favoured term and consistently used it in the translation.
Something that I found extremely interesting during this project is that certain extremely significant copyright concepts do not have a common label to identify them at all in Arabic. For example, the right of integrity, which is a right that is found in practically all Arab copyright laws, is not explicitly named as such in any of these laws except one. This probably because there is, in fact, no formal one-word label for this concept even in the Berne Convention. The Marrakesh VIP Treaty does mention this right as such, and translates it as حصانة (Hasannah), however, the majority of the members of the translation team did not feel that term would be understood as such in Arabic, and instead used the only reference found for it in a domestic Arabic copyright law (Algeria) which is سلامة (Salama).
Translating the Creative Commons into Arabic was a fun and engaging exercise, and it taught us, the contributors to the translation project, something new about the way copyright laws are drafted differently across the region.
Kuwait passed a new Copyright and Neighbouring rights Law in June 2016. This is new law replaces the 1999 copyright law – the first copyright law that Kuwait ever had. This new law is probably motivated by Kuwait’s accession to the Berne Convention in 2014.