At the end of November 2021 the UAE adopted the largest legislative changes in its history, with more than 40 new or significantly amended laws. The changes apply across many sectors, from trade and industry to the production, sale and use of narcotics. As well as firming up some security matters, the overall results appear to strengthen the rights of business (especially investors), institutions, and individuals (especially for personal relationships).
The press release says the raft of
new laws and legislative amendments “are intended to keep pace with the
developmental achievements of the UAE and reflect the country’s future
aspirations”. They certainly represent a general tidying up to reflect global
best practice and to keep pace with technological development – for instance,
amendments to the Law on Electronic Transactions and Trust Services now give
digital signatures the same weight as a handwritten signature.
The updated Federal Crime and
Punishment Law clearly improves protection for women and domestic servants,
clarifies and emphasises the penalties for rape and indecent assault, and eases
some of the restrictions on extramarital relationships including effective
decriminalisation of consensual relationships out of wedlock.
The new Online Security Law has
some welcome measures against cybercrime and online harassment, bullying and
‘fake news’. The danger of course is that it’s still difficult to raise
concerns about the exercise of authority or to test the boundaries; what seems
legitimate to some might well qualify under the law as spreading rumours or
publishing misleading information online.
And the UAE’s anti-narcotics laws
have been eased slightly in the direction of more leniency to first-time
offenders with a shift towards rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Impact on the creative sector
The UAE has always had strong IP
protection; it is a signatory to a range of international treaties on the
recognition and enforcement of intellectual property rights, and this is
reflected in legislation. In particular, any original intellectual work in
literary, arts or the sciences is protected under the UAE copyright law
whatever its description, form of expression, significance or purpose.
Copyright applies for the owner’s lifetime plus 50 years.
There is a presumption of
copyright if the author/creator of the work affirms their rights to it (which
usually means stating that somewhere on or near the work). In theory this is
open to challenge; you’ll get more protection by (it
costs a bargain AED 50 for individuals) and/or the (which is much more expensive
but gives you a certifcate that guarantees copyright protection in the 179 countries
that have signed up to the Berne Convention).
The most relevant aspect of the
new changes is improved protection for copyright and IP; Federal Decree-Law No.
38/2021 on Copyrights and Neighboring Rights replaces all existing UAE
legislation in this area and enhances protection for creators and owners of
Included are the right to
determine when the work in question was (or will be) first published, which can
obviously affect a range of issues around ownership, fair use, and moneys due;
and the right to protest against alterations to the work “if the alteration
leads to distortion of the author’s intent” (there still could be lots of room
for argument there).
The New Copyright Law also
introduces new doctrines, such as economic rights on copyrights in context of
work for hire, licensing of computer software and smart applications. The
sanctions and penalties in case of violations and infringements have also been
increased to help copyright owners with anti-piracy efforts.
There’s additional protection too
for people of determination.
The law is generally well drafted
to provide better protection and catch up with international progress in terms
of copyright protection. “The law could be enacted to be more comprehensive and
regulate all possible issues that may arise from copyright exploitations,
creations, transactions and/or disputes. However, the trend of all IP related
laws to keep them simple and brief to leave the interpretation of issues to the
That tends to be the model
elsewhere, and it does obviously place significant emphasis on the ability of
the courts to understand the issues and make appropriate judgements – which
could well become case law that clarifies and hones the overarching Federal
Law. It could take some time before we have specialist advocates and suitably
experienced judges, but then that’s the case with most new legislation.
How do the new laws generally
affect the kind of content that can be included in creative/cultural activities
– what changes will affect artists, designers and performers?
There will be little direct impact
on content, except to improve protections under the Berne Convention, to which
the UAE is a signatory and which has always been the basis of UAE copyright
The updated legislation sharpens
this commitment. The New Copyright Law helps to increase the sanctions in case
of infringement of such rights, and the one area of content that will be
affected most is digital. The New Copyright Law should assist holders of
digital rights, developers of computer software and smart applications, and
game designers and investors to feel more comfortable about the legal
landscape. The provisions of the New Copyright Law establish a clearer
statutory protection which will urge innovators and investors to enhance their
projects in the UAE.
There’s a caveat, though, and
again it’s the implementation of the law within the courts. The legislation and
statutory protection will not be the key area of development – the practice of
courts will also be an area that needs a focus from all stakeholders. It is
very important to enhance the knowledge and find specialised judges that can
deal with all technical knowledge surrounding the digital issues. This will
need a collective effort under the umbrella of a sovereign decision from all
concerned parties to assure due process in examining such conflicts.
Incidentally, another area that
has been strengthened is the law around the other prime example of intellectual
property – trademarks. (In general, copyright law applies to the authorship of
original works: trademarks identify goods or services.) In particular, the
federal law on trademarks has been amended to expand the scope of protection to
include a variety of novel trademark formats: 3D objects, holograms, even
sounds and scents that distinguish a supplier and its products. A copyrighted
video game or a multimedia artwork, for instance, might usefully carry the
extra protection of a registered trademark in one of these forms.
The UAE follows the commonly used
first-to-file principle for trademarks, meaning whoever files the trademark
application first is presumed to be the rightful owner. The trademark then has
to be used within five years after registration (trademark registration gives
you ten years; protection).
As part of the changes to IP law
and procedures, the UAE has joined the Madrid System of the World Intellectual
Property Organisation as from 28 December 2021. This is a good thing, because
it means there’s less need to use a local agent for registering trademarks –
previously a foreign applicant for a trademark had to appoint a local agent via
a power of attorney which had to be legalised first by the UAE embassy in the
applicant’s home country and then by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the
UAE. The new arrangements mean that a foreign applicant can extend their basic
‘home’ registration to the UAE without the need for a local agent (unless the
trademark registration is refused, in which case you’ll definitely need help).
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