x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pay musicians their due – in royalties

The law exists to enforce intellectual property rights and ensure musicians are paid for the use of their music. What are needed are proper mechanisms to apply them.

"When I work, I must get paid" is not only the righteous demand of a 1970s reggae musician. Jimmy Cliff's lyrical appeal is that of artists everywhere who are often denied royalties for their musical creations. It is a sentiment that should also sum up the proceedings of next month's International Confederation of Music Publishers meeting in Dubai, which is meant to raise the profile of music royalties and copyright infringement in the Middle East.

As we report today, musicians are being cheated out of large sums in royalties because of a lack of intellectual property law enforcement in the region. From malls that play records, to back-alley stores selling pirated CDs, to radio stations that refuse to pay the fees they are asked for, many consumers enjoy the work of artists without paying a fair price for the pleasure.

Next month's meeting hopes to highlight the problem between legislation and enforcement; although detailed intellectual property (IP) laws exist on the UAE's books, they are often hard to implement in practice, which is not much of a surprise. As black markets thrive throughout the region, the availability of pirated media has ingrained itself into the fabric of many local economies. Even hefty copyright fines of Dh10,000 written into UAE law in 2002 have not deterred TV and radio stations from freely continuing to air content that should be paid for.

Intellectual property disputes often require complex solutions, but the UAE Government has the ability to set the standard in the region by supporting and enforcing the laws it already has. The laws exist; they need mechanisms to properly apply them. Such mechanisms - royalty collection associations or an umbrella organisation that oversees copyright infringement - would in turn change perceptions and behaviour, paving the way for a fairer intellectual environment.

As the country continues to invest in a media industry that is part of a greater knowledge-based economy, the enforcement of IP legislation has to grow apace with artistic ambitions. No musician, filmmaker or writer has an incentive to produce work if he or she will receive no benefit from it. And while we as a society are enriched by the products of creative minds, we must give those minds the respect and financial reward that is their due.