Tougher MidEast copyright laws a must - music boss

Musicians are being shortchanged under current regime, says PopArabia chief
Jay-Z and Rihanna perform (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes)

Jay-Z and Rihanna perform (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes)

The head of the Middle East’s biggest music licencing company has called for better policing of the region’s copyright laws amid concerns musicians and companies with music assets are being short-changed.

Hussein ‘Spek’ Youssef, the founder and managing director of Dubai-based PopArabia, which represents global music labels such as Universal and Sony/ATV, said the local system was way behind the western world.

“There were companies like Rotana that are sitting on music assets but they weren’t monetising the music publishing assets per se,” he told Arabian Business.

“It was even debatable whether they had music publishing assets because they didn’t seem to have contracts with a lot of the song writers.”

Youssef said it was a similar situation in India.

“I knew some of the people that work at the Bollywood companies and I knew that they had no clue about this,” he said.

“Like in the Arab world, the film producers, would just buy the music that they would put into their films, but they weren’t monetising it any further than that. They didn’t realise that actually they’re supposed to earn royalties as well. They were sitting on assets but they didn’t do anything to monetise those assets because it wasn’t their core business.”

Spek said although copyright laws existed, they were not being enforced.

“There’s a misconception that there is no law here, that it’s the wild west and you could do whatever you want,” he said.

“It really has to happen also at a federal level. There is a copyright law, which is a federal law over here, and people aren’t abiding by the copyright law.”

Youssef said US copyright laws were a “little bit more deep and a little more robust” but the basic principles were the same in the US, UK or the UAE.

He said one of PopArabia’s goals was cut out the middle man and establish direct contact between agents and music licencing companies such as themselves to make the process easier, quicker and cheaper for clients.

“I have sympathy with the infringers, but it’s the only place that I have sympathy for them,” he said. “They would have to contact London or LA and London or LA would get like a thousand requests a day and they would get a request from UAE or Morocco, which goes directly to the bottom of the list. They would obviously focus on where the money is - a license in the US would obviously pay a lot more than a license for Lebanon, for example.”

However, Spek also believed the “distrust” between some musicians in India and the Middle East and the music publishing side of the business needed to be addressed.

“There’s an inherent distrust within the business culture of this idea that I’m not going to get a royalty because it’s money that I’m going to get paid later,” he said.

“So the sort of inherent culture is that we don’t care about the royalties, just give us $10,000 upfront. It doesn’t matter if you owe us a million dollars, show me $10,000 in a suitcase and I’ll sign anything you want.

“That’s true of India, that’s true of over here. People will sign away anything as long as you show them cash up front.”

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Posted by: jane

A commendable endeavour, fraught with objection and ignorance at very high levels. Although I'm retired now, since the 80s some of us have made strenuous attempts to implement a collection point. London thought it more expensive to administer than any revenue collected. At one meeting, I was told in no uncertain terms by the highest ranking official; 'We will NEVER pay money for this stupid music' and very similar remarks were made just recently in Saudi Arabia.
The law is there and clear Gulf Wide, but ignored. As recently as 4 weeks ago, I was approached by an old music biz friend asking me about royalty payments for video clips to be played on Bahrain TV and the criminal disregard by a Lebanese Company, a monopoly, who have used the English pop channel Radio Bahrain for almost a decade as a platform to make millions in advertising revenue without a single cent paid in royalties. Two letters were written to the press to highlight this, but both were refused publication

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