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Thu 28 Feb 2008 02:07 AM

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Arab world to fight $50bn fraud 'epidemic'

Arab League backs efforts to educate businesses over software piracy.

The Arab League is to step up the fight against intellectual property (IP) theft, piracy and counterfeiting, which costs the Arab world up to $50 billion each year.

The Egypt-based policy-making body is putting its weight behind a forum to educate Arab businesses and consumers about IP rights and the damage caused to legitimate business by the illegal pirating of business software, DVDs, music CDs and computer games.

Arab League assistant secretary general for economic affairs Muhammad bin Ibrahim Al-Tuwaijri earlier this month described the problem as an ‘epidemic.’

In many countries across the region, over half of all software in use is believed to be counterfeit, and local attitudes to the concept of IP are said to contribute to the growing problem, with piracy still viewed by some as a harmless crime.

‘Arab World Protect 2008: The First Arab Consumer and Brand Protection Forum’, to be held in Jeddah in October, hopes to raise awareness of the economic ramifications, social costs and health and safety risks posed by piracy, and develop strategies to combat the problem.

Sponsored by the Arab League in association with Hemaya Universal - a Saudi Arabian-based consumer and brand protection organisation – it will aim to encourage greater cooperation across the region, promote better legislation and empower individual nations to tackle the issue along with leading brand owners, international agencies and the private sector.

According to the Business Software Alliance, software piracy rates in 2006 reached 84% in Algeria, 79% in Tunisia, 73% in Lebanon, 66% in Morocco, 63% in Egypt and 61% in Jordan.

In GCC countries, the rates stood at 64% for Kuwait, 62% for Oman, 60% for Bahrain, 58% for Qatar, and 52% for Saudi Arabia.

The UAE at 35% is the only country in the region at the average global piracy rate, and the only Arab country in a world list of 20 countries for the lowest piracy rates for 2006.

However, even in the UAE, counterfeit goods - from cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and tobacco to spare parts for cars – cost the country an estimated $1.7 billion in lost non-oil GDP, $110 million in lost tax revenue, and some 31,000 job opportunities, according to a recent study by KPMG.

Worldwide, legitimate businesses lose an estimated $700 billion annually to IP piracy and counterfeiting.

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