Omani Bloggers and Copyright

Copyright Infringment - OmanForum
A bizarre event occurred today in which expat blogger Angry in Oman was shocked to see a post she wrote on her blog posted in OmanForum under a username identical to her blog name. Angry in Oman was outraged because it seemed as she personally made those posts on the forum and the blog post did not tell the whole story of the incident mentioned making people make the wrong assumptions about what really happened.

It eventually turned out that this was a new forum feature introduced by OmanForum’s administrator for which he thought it would be ‘a good idea’ to copy other people blog posts in the forum because it makes ‘the forum more interesting’ and gives the author ‘extra exposure’. The administrator of OmanForum removed the thread after several members complained about the issue, however, he did not seem to be convinced that he did anything wrong.

For some reason, many people assume that crediting the source gives them the right to copy it, which is obviously not the case. If Neo, OmanForum’s administrator, has been for a long time copying articles from elsewhere and crediting them doesn’t mean that what has been doing is legally or morally right. The exceptions to the protection of copyright n Oman are very limited in scope, and copying for the purpose of “making the forum more interesting and giving the author extra exposure” is obviously not one of these exceptions.

Technically, Angry in Oman can sue for copyright infringement, but obviously she will not do that as it compromise her identity. If she ever were to take legal action, she should be able to force OmanForum to remove all infringing content, and she migh even be able to ask for monetary compensation because OmanForum is a business venture that sells advertising and commercially benefits from the copyright infringement it undertakes as material copied from elsewhere is used to attract more readers and more advertisement impressions.


Copyright Exceptions in Oman

Official Gazette
The exceptions to copyright vary from one country to another. In Oman, the permitted uses of copyright works are expressed in Chapter 5 of Royal Decree 65/2008.

First of all, unlike the USA, and more like the UK, there is no general exception of fair use in Oman. The list of copyright exceptions is an exhaustive list found in Article 20 of the Decree.

All of the exceptions of copyright in Oman require acknowledging the author and that the use does not impact on the normal use of the works or unreasonably harms the interests of the author.

There are seven exception in Article 20:

  1. Copying segments of a work available to the public for purposes of review, illustration, or criticism.
  2. Using the work in the family domain or for students inside an educational institute for purposes of education. The use must not be directly or indirectly paid-for.
  3. Creating a single copy of the work for archiving purposes by the designated authorities, OR by educational institutes as long as (a) copying is made for a published article or a short work for fulfilling the needs of an individual researcher, OR (b) copying is made for the purpose of protecting the original copy of the work or replacing a defective copy.
  4. Copying or broadcasting segments from articles published in daily newspapers or periodical about current events as long as original publisher has no exclusive right over the time of publishing, and the copying was made by the press.
  5. Copyright program related exceptions: (1) copying for the necessary operation of the program, (2) creating a single backup copy in case the original is damaged or lost, (3) creating a copy for the purposes of porting the program to another system or language as long as the ported copy is used by the owner of the original copy.
  6. The public performance of a dramatic or musical work in religious events or face to face teaching inside educational institutes. (Both cases must no be made for direct or indirect gain).
  7. Creating a temporary copying by broadcasting agencies for use in their programs as long as they have the right to broadcast and as long as the temporary copy is destroyed after a period of 6 months.

The exceptions in Omani law are very badly drafted and are not very clear. The 4th exception on reporting of current events does not make sense because it indicates that you can only copy as long as the person you are copying from has no right to publish. The exception is also only available for ‘the press’, which is not defined, but is very unlikely to extent to bloggers or those who contribute on online discussion boards. The exceptions also do not talk about copying photographs or videos for the purposes of reporting current events and only talks about ‘segments of articles’ – which in Arabic means ‘text’ and does not necessarily include non-textual content.


Introduction to Copyright

Copyright(Image credits: PungoM)

Copyright is a right granted by the state for creators of original qualifying works to prevent others from carrying out certain activities in relation to these works. Copyright does not protect the idea behind created works, but the expression of that idea in the work.

In the United Kingdom Copyright is regulated by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. In Oman, copyright is regulated by the Copyright Law 65/2008. The UK and Oman are both members of the Berne Convention, which grants requires members to grant copyright protection automatically upon the creation of the work without requiring the author to fulfill any formalities such as registration or deposit. Almost all countries in the world are members of the Berne Convention. Any work created in any of these members or by a national of any of these members will have his work protected in all other member states.

This means that ANY thing you create, like writing a blog post or taking a photograph using your mobile phone is protected by copyright. The period for copyright protection for most works extends for the life of the author plus 70 years after his death.

Copyright is NOT grant the author an absolute monopoly over the use of copyright work. It only regulates a number of activities related to the work, in the UK, these include copying (whether in whole or in substantial amount), issuing copies, performing in public, broadcasting, making adaptations (including translation), and renting out certain works such as computer programs, films, and sound recordings. Carrying out any of the activities cannot be legitimately done without acquiring the conset of the copyright owner. Though originally meant to be an exhaustive list of activities, as we consume today most of our media electornically, any use of digital works requires creating a copy of the work temporary or permenantly on the computer to process and consume that work. However, the law provides an exception for using digital media to allow users to copy works on their computer as long as they do it to be able to carry out the intended use of the copyright work.

A further limitation to the control of the author of his work is imposed through a number of limitations for permitted uses provided for in the law. In the UK these include fair dealing for purposes of research and private study; and fair dealing for the purposes of criticism, review, and news reporting (provided that sufficient acknowledgement of the work is made); incidental inclusion of the work in others; activities done for instruction or examination; the creation of anthologies for educational use; playing, showing or performing in an educational establishment; recording of broadcasts by educational establishments; reprographic copying that does not exceed 1% of the work; copying by libraries and archives for purposes of preservation;  copying for purposes of public administration (e.g. by courts); and a number of lawful uses of computer programs and databases.

The existence of copyright law is justified on a number of ethical and economic grounds. Many believe that ethically an author of any work has a natural right or a human right over the product of his labour. Economically, it is a believed that the grant of this protection operates an incentive which is capable of driving people to create more. It is also essential to have copyright to protect the investment made in the creation of works that couldn’t be funded if it wasn’t for the ability to have these works exclusively exhausted through the protection of copyright (competitors easily copy-market failure?). It is also believed that it is fair to reward authors for the effort they expended in creating a work and then giving it to the public.


The Problem with DRM

Digital Rights Management or DRM are tools used by distributors of digital media to ensure to control the way in which their music, video, and other digital goods are used and distributed. The majority of countries, including Oman, make it a criminal offense to disable DRM, to manufacture or import tools that disable DRM, or to share information to enable others to disable DRM.
Though not strictly speaking an actual substance of copyright, DRM offences are placed in copyright legislation due to their usage in that field. Content distributors use DRM to enforce their copyright by locking down their digital goods. For example, when you download a ringtone from your mobile operator service directly, that ringtone will be equipped with DRM that will not allow you to forward this ringtone to anybody else. If you purchase a DVD, you will not be able to create a copy of it using any legal software in the market. If you rent a video from iTunes, you will not be able to copy that video onto any other machine and you will have a very limited time to watch it after which the video will stop working.

Due to the ease at which copyright work can be copied and distributed over the Internet, one of the industry’s responses to enforce their copyright was the introduction of newer and newer DRM technologies. By using DRM content owners can have almost complete control over the use of the copyright work and will ensure that it is not copied or duplicated easy.

DRM has also contributed to the creation of new business models and services that would not have existed otherwise, for example, it would be impossible to have a legally cheap music rental services such as Napster if it wasn’t for DRM.

The available of DRM also helps the regulation of content through different territories for the protection of children and society when moral values and tolerance of sexual and violent content varies from one distinction to the other as DRM makes it difficult to play American movies in Europe).

However, for the greatest part, most people think that DRM is a bad thing. Starting from the top, there is no evidence that using DRM actually reduces piracy. Steve Jobs himself said in 2007 and DRM does not work. The nature of digital goods makes it impossible to lock down the ability to copy a work because by definition that data must be unlocked to be used and therefore it will always be possible to record and copy that data, whether it digital or analogue format, and then redistribute it. DRM targets the wrong people, people who will pay for it are not the pirates. It is demeaning because it makes every single one of us a suspect of copyright infringement.

A more problematic area of DRM is that it does not only stop illegal copying, but legal copying as well. Copyright is not an absolute right, but one which is supposed to balance the interests of society against those of the author. The collection of these legal copying instances are called in the US “Fair Use” and in Europe “Fair Dealing”. In Oman, these are called “Free Uses” and are specified in Article 20 of the Copyright Law 65/2008. A simple example of these rights are the right to make a single backup copy under Article 20(5). When DRM is used to protect a copyright work, then breaking the protection to create a copy would constitute a criminal offense regardless of whether the DRM was removed to create a legitimate backup copy.

This example could also be illustrated in the case of DVD playback on the Linux OS, no Linux OS has the license to play DVD movies on it, but Article 20(5) allows the modification of a copyright work in order to make a work compatible with another operating system, however, due to the fact that DVD movies are protected by CSS DRM, it will not be possible to make use the format shifting exception to play the DVD on Linux and any attempt to create a tool to play DVDs on Linux, or use one, would constitute a criminal offense under Article 40 of the Copyright Law.

That basically renders all the exceptions of copyright protection pointless as the majority of copyright works can now be DRMed, whether there was or wasn’t a point for using this protection. That obviously cannot be right, as copyright was never meant to grant such a power to content makers to control the way we use content we legally purchased. No legislator anywhere made the conscious decision to introduce such stringent rules, but this change in the way copyright operates was a result in the change of technology, for which copyright law was modified in the WRONG way “adapt” to it.

Not only does DRM not allow for free use exceptions, but it does not take regard of even works in the public domain for which no copyright subsists at all as a protection for DRM is granted whether or not the content it actually protects is in copyright or not.

DRM also poses a number of privacy issues, as at some instances personal data, such as names and credit card details, might be required to be submitted before the digital product is consumed. DRM can also be used to track the way and frequency at which the product is used. DRM proved to also be a possible cause of serious security risk to user computers as was the case in the Sony rootkit music CD fiasco.

The complex structure of today’s market and the way different tools and required to consume media, all make it possible for DRM to be used to affect the secondary market, as content providers may control the way products are played (e.g. DVDs). This could have an impact on competition and may stifle innovation as new technologies cannot be introduced if all current media is locked down to a specific DRM that cannot be legally broken or adapted without the permission of the owner.

The problems with DRM are international, the majority of modern copyright legislation including the US, Japan, and UK all have similar provisions against the circumvention of DRM. The laws in Oman are just as bad, especially as the DRM provisions were introduced in response to comply with the requirements of Article 15.4 of the Free Trade Agreement with the US. Any attempt to remove or amend the bad DRM provisions in Oman could render us in breach of our obligations under the FTA. Our only solace is that the situation in the US (and all other countries that signed an FTA with the US) is just as bad, but that does not really solve the problem.

Luckily, more and more companies seem to know that DRM is not the solution to the problem, iTunes announced a couple of months ago that it will make its entire music catalog without DRM, Amazon has always been so since the day it launched its online music store.

But now having DRM free content seems like a privilege and not a right. An international movement would have take place for the law to change that position.