The First Copyright Law in the Arab World

The first copyright law to exist in Arab countries came at the time when the Ottoman Empire was in control of major parts of what makes up the Arab world including Libya, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Saudi.
The first official Ottoman copyright law was passed in the form a regulation in 1850 called “Encumen-I Danis Nizamnamesi” (More info on this masters thesis). This regulation was later followed by a proper copyright act in 1910 which remained in force until 1951. Even though this was a modern and sophisticated law for its time, there is no evidence that this law was ever enforced in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, let alone any of the remote territories of the Empire (This ebook on Turkish  IP law talks more about this). However, a lot of literature still acknowledges its application, at least theoretically, to former territories within the Ottoman Empire such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine.

The Ottoman Copyright Law of 1910 was passed after the creation of the Berne Convention and its Berlin revision, but it was not compatible with its provisions, naturally because the Ottoman Empire was not a member of the convention. Nonetheless, the Ottoman Copyright Law of 1910 was still a modern copyright for its time as it was modeled after the German Copyright Law of 1901. The Ottoman Copyright Law granted protection for literary and pictorial works, engravings, sculptures, maps, musical works and notes, as well as lectures. The law covered the rights for copying and performing and allowed exceptions such as those for political speeches, judicial proceedings, and criticism. The law required formalities, registration, and deposit. The protection was generally for the life of the author plus 30 years after his death with the exception of charts and maps which lasted for 18 years after the death of the author and translations which lasted for 15 years after the death of the translator. In addition to the provisions of the Copyright Law itself, the Ottoman Criminal Act also created specific offenses against copyright infringement.

The following papers provide additional info on this largely forgotten law:

  • Birnhack M. “Hebrew Authors and English Copyright Law in Mandate Palestine” (February 11, 2010). Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2011. Available at SSRN:
  • Zemer L., ‘Copyright Departures: The Fall of the Last Imperial Copyright Dominion and the Case of Fair Use’ , 60 DePaul L. Rev. 1051 (2011) Available at:
  • Surmeli, Gungor (2011), ‘The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in Turkey in the EU Accession Process: A Perceptoin Analysis of the Police Officers Dealingw ith IPR Crimes”, Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: .