JOSA Discusses Copyright Challenges in the Arab World

Arab IGF in Beirut

JOSA Discusses Copyright Challenges in the Arab World

The last Arab Internet Governance Forum (Arab IGF) in Beirut was the right occasion to deepen the discussion about how the Arab World sees copyright laws, where, in an environment which lacks respect to intellectual property, alternatives are flourishing, including Creative Commons and Open Source software.

A workshop was organized by Riyadh Al Balushi, who's leading the Creative Commons efforts in Oman, and by Issa Mahasneh, president of the Jordan Open Source Association, to explore the challenges that face copyright law in the Arab world, in addition to present open and free alternatives to the status quo.

A myriad of speakers, coming from government and public administration, private sector, and civil society, presented different case studies and attempted to identify potential solutions to ensure that copyright laws in the Arab world do not fail in providing individuals and businesses with incentives to create more works, while providing society with a fair opportunity to access knowledge and culture.

The reasons behind this little respect towards copyrights are multiple, the panelists provided some, including the lack of legal alternatives to pirated content, and the fact that copyright law on the internet is not enforced. In addition, Internet users are not fully aware of their countries' law, the panelists also highlighted how the copyright law failed to create a healthy balance between the right of authors for protection and the right of society, especially in third world countries, to have fair and reasonable access to culture and information in the digital age.

Dhouha Ben Youssef, Regional Business Developer at Yala Music, introduced a practical case study, in which copyrighted music is provided to the Arab audience for free, since the access to legal music online would be expensive to Arab music-lovers, Yala Music built a business model in which the end user, or customer, can listen to her favourite hits for free, with full respect of intellectual property and copyright.

Professor Fawzi Baroud, who is holding the position of assistant Vice President at Notre Dame University in Lebanon, covered how Open Education Resources (OER) could be a valid, legal and open alternative for textbooks and curricula in the academic institutes in the Arab World. Baroud explained to the particants the philosophy behind Creative Commons, an alternative to the current copyright system, and its crucial role for licensing OER, resulting in having free, open-accessible learning materials to students.

Open Source and Free software as viable alternatives to pirated software, were also longly discussed in the Workshop. At the government level, Fahad Al Saidi, project manager at the Omani Information Technology Authority, listed several benefits of Open Source software, but at the same time, he recognized the fact that Arab government agencies are still reluctant to adopt Open Source software, citing lack of support and immaturity as the main excuses for government to not increase their usage of Open Source and Free software.

Issa Mahasneh, from the Jordan Open Source Association, ended with highlighting the social importance of software freedom, and mentioned how different companies in the Arab World are already utilizing Open Source software to cut costs, lack of vendor lock-in, security and the freedom it gives to users. He also mentioned how Open Source can be a viable business model for IT companies in the region.

Followed by a very dynamic Q/A session, the workshop was an excellent place to discuss how the lack of respect for copyright law can make it difficult for individuals and businesses in the Arab world to innovate as their works will hardly be protected online and they might not be able to make a living out of their creative craft, on the other hand, attempting to establish strict rules can also easily stifle innovation as it may block access to fundamental sources of knowledge necessary for young Arabs to learn how to create something of their own.