The UAE issued late last year a new copyright law as part of its sweeping legal reform in celebration of its 50th national day. A quick glance over the new law might make it initially seem like a word for word reproduction of the previous UAE Copyright Law of 2002—and that is true to a great degree, but there are several significant specific changes in the new UAE Copyright Law of 2021 that are worth considering.
The new UAE Copyright Law of 2021 is the third comprehensive copyright law in the UAE. The first copyright law in the UAE was issued in 1992, followed by another law in 2002 that the UAE issued to comply with its WTO obligations. Even though other countries in the GCC, namely Bahrain and Oman, issued their 3rd generation laws to comply with their US FTA obligations, the 3rd generation UAE copyright law was not introduced to comply with a US FTA obligation and consequently it retains the standard term of copyright protection, i.e. 50 years after the death of the author, and does not follow the 70-years term found in Bahrain and Oman.
The new law retains to a very large degree the same wording and structure of the previous law, and adds a few changes here and there. The most prominent of these changes are the following:
1. Article 2(b) and a few other places in the law explicitly mention “smart applications” as qualifying copyright subject matter. This change is likely to be superficial as the previous law included “computer software” as protected subject matter and there is no reason to believe that “computer software” does not include “smart applications”.
2. The previous UAE law imposed a cap on the number of future works that an author can contract and set this cap to a maximum of 5. The new law retained the concept of this cap in article 15(a), but delegated the authority of setting the specific number in article 15(b) to an executive regulation that will be issued in the future. Delegating this matter to the regulation gives flexibility to the law as issuing and amending the regulation is much easier than amending the law.
3. Additional rights to holders of neighbouring rights, namely performers and owners of sound recordings, have been granted in regard to rental, distribution, and making available fixed performances and sound recordings in articles 17 and 18.
4. A brand new exception is introduced in article 23 to allow creating accessible copies of protected works to facilitate access to the work for visually impaired persons.
5. Several new provisions have been added regarding the person deemed to be the owner of copyright over works for hire, works produced in the course of employment, and architectural works in articles 28 and 31. Some of these provisions, especially in regard to architectural works, appear strange to me, but these are default positions that can be reconfigured through contract.
6. The criminal penalties for copyright violation in terms of imprisonment sentence and fines have been increased.
The most interesting modification in my opinion is the new exception to enable creating accessible copies for the visually impaired. The UAE acceded to the Marrakesh Visually Impaired Treaty in 2014, and was required to make this modification to its law to comply with its obligations under this treaty. Even though this exception seems to be an obvious one to make, very few countries in this region have it, and the UAE should be applauded for including it in its copyright law. In the GCC, Kuwait is the only other country that has such an exception. However, the UAE missed the opportunity for introducing a flexible style exception such as the one used in Kuwait to allow copying without permission for any purpose that complies with the 3-step test of the Berne Convention. Had the UAE introduced this exception, it would have enabled the use of protected works for a variety of legitimate purposes without having to explicitly mention them one by one.
You can download the Arabic version of the UAE Copyright Law of 2021 at this link.