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Mon 25 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Warning sounds

The copyright law for background music in the United Arab Emirates is about to get very serious.

Whether you are running a store in Dubai or Durban, Abu Dhabi or Atlanta, the retail sector has many similarities. It is highly likely that you play music in the background to entice customers, keep them browsing or simply for the benefit of your staff.

Under UAE law, producers of phonograms are entitled to prohibit any exploitation of their phonograms by any means without their authorisation.

Background music is extremely important and an invaluable contribution to a pleasant atmosphere in any shop, supermarket, or restaurant. However, contrary to popular opinion, particularly in the UAE, the use of music in this way does not come for free.

Whether played over the radio, from a CD or MP3 player, permission, i.e. a licence, from the ‘creators of music' is a legal obligation. With its authority based in copyright law, this is where what is often termed a ‘collecting society' comes into force. Copyright law in the UAE is about to get serious.

It concerns you directly and definitely should not be ignored.

What is a 'collecting society'?

The task of a collecting society is in theory very simple: to collect money from users of music and then to distribute it to its members, the owners of the rights in that music.

There are many different types of collecting society, maintained on behalf of the artists themselves or for the producers of the sound recordings, often known as the record companies.

The producer, who we will concentrate on here, creates the basic conditions for the recording itself. Collective licensing has been adopted pretty much everywhere in the world where copyright is enforced.

For some time however, the Middle East has represented a glaring black hole in terms of what is officially termed the ‘collective administration of copyrights and neighbouring rights'.

What is the point and who benefits from it?

Collective licensing is a system whereby copyright owners combine to form a collecting society to offer use of the music under their control for public performance.

This is subject to compliance with the terms of a licence agreement and payment of a royalty fee. It offers convenience to the users of music who, once a licence is in place and the fees paid, do not have to seek advance consents from rights owners.

Licences will invariably grant the right to use that society's entire repertoire for a specified purpose, with the royalty payable prescribed in a tariff that is common to all the users in a group, for example, supermarkets and hypermarkets.

Copyright law in the UAE

As previously mentioned, collecting societies exist all over the world with the Middle East a notable exception. Until now that is.

The Emirates Music Rights Society or EMRS is being set up as the Middle East's first and currently only collecting society, a move made possible by the UAE's Federal Government creating the necessary legislative framework.

In particular, Section 16 of the UAE's Federal Law No.7 of 2002 Concerning Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights allows the creation of such bodies and provides for collective rights administration.

A license from the Ministry of Economy is required for this purpose, and the Ministry is currently processing the appropriate licence for EMRS to begin its work in the region.

EMRS is set to focus on the public use of music where the rights of the producers in those recordings are involved, primarily in relation to what is called the ‘secondary exploitation' of its member's rights.

To explain, when a performance is recorded for commercial use on, for example a CD, and is offered for sale to consumers this is called first exploitation or use.

However, when that recorded performance is then broadcast on the radio or television or is played in public - for example in stores - that is called secondary exploitation or use.

It is illegal to make such secondary use without the permission of the owner of those rights. In return for such permission the rights owners, through the collecting society, will require the payment of a licence fee.

It is this licence fee that the collecting society collects on behalf of its members.

Collecting societies - all bark and no bite?

EMRS' mandate stems from the UAE copyright law and so has the relevant authority behind it. Under UAE law, producers of phonograms are entitled to prohibit any exploitation of their phonograms by any means without their authorisation.

The legislation states that anyone who commits any acts (including the secondary use of music) without written permission from the rights holder is guilty of a criminal as well as a civil offence.

This can attract punishment of a period of not less than two months imprisonment and/or fines of up to AED50,000 (US $13,614), such penalties to be increased according to the number of phonograms used in an infringing manner.

To put the situation in a nutshell, where music is used in public performance without such permission, the user will be guilty of an infringement of the UAE copyright law and punished accordingly.

The founding members of EMRS include the major international record companies and the largest, best known and most established record producers in the UAE and throughout the Middle East.

This region may currently constitute a black hole in the collecting society world, but take it from us, this is due to change and the retail sector must take it extremely seriously.

The result of this will be that throughout the UAE, the GCC, and ultimately the Middle East, rights owners will finally be able to receive the remuneration to which, by law, they are due but have to date been unable to collect.

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