Although the UAE's copyright laws are as strict as other countries, few acts ever get their royalty payments here.
See me, hear me ... pay me
Every time the British band Keane's most recent single, the 3-minute, 40-second The Lovers are Losing, is played on BBC Radio 1 in the UK, they can expect to earn approximately £60.
Every time it is played in the UAE in the run-up to their concert at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai on July 8, they can expect to earn precisely nothing. Worse, perhaps, local bands find themselves in the same position - which, music industry professionals say, is stifling their creativity and development. Although the UAE has copyright laws, without a mechanism to charge broadcasters and pay performers when their work is used, many musicians are losing out on tens of thousands of dollars every year from royalties that should be coming from radio broadcasting and nightclub airplay.
"We must support local acts and right now," says Saleh Hamed, who works with the Abu Dhabi-based rock band Juliana Down. "They are not being paid for their work, so there is no incentive for them to get into the industry." Now The National has learned that one of the world's biggest music publishers has begun working with the Government to implement a system for artists' rights. "People here think the law is vague but it's not," said Hussain Yoosuf, managing director of Fairwood Music, which is working on the project with BKP Music. "The law is there, and it's extremely clear. The specifics of the law are not very different to anywhere else and are based on British law."
Fairwood, which last year won the contract to handle Universal Music's publishing catalogue in the region, represents artists from Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake to David Bowie and Paul Simon in the world's largest music publishing catalogue. Disc jockeys contacted yesterday were reluctant to speak about the issue, but one radio executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the law is routinely flouted.
"There is regulation, but none of us are following it," the executive said. "With Arabic music, we have purchased the rights from the production houses or via the singers and they get their money," he said. "The Arab music and media industry is a small world. But with the Western music, it is a bit different, and we are in negotiations about how to solve this." Mr Yoosuf said the lack of royalty mechanisms had stunted the music industry in the UAE. In theory, under the existing law, copyright owners could license performances of their work.
When that did not happen, authorities such as the Ministry of Economy, the National Media Council and Dubai's T-Com were relied upon to take action. "It has to come from the Government," the executive said. "What they don't want is some private entity coming along and organising a system which isn't transparent to the public." The UAE is striving to establish itself as the cultural hub of the region, but music industry experts such as Mr Hamed say that without enforcement of copyright laws and a comprehensive royalties system, the country will never be able to compete with industries and markets around the world.
Not only will local talent starve, he said, but international labels will "neglect this part of the world", knowing that they will not get good returns. The UAE's copyright law dates to 2002, when the Ministry of Information and Culture passed Federal Law No 7 "concerning copyrights and neighbouring rights", but because there is no enforcement mechanism, many people are either unaware of its existence or unsure of its importance.
The law protects "music compositions with or without words, sound and audiovisual works", as well as other creative work, from literature to paintings, for the author's "lifetime and 50 years beginning from the first day of the calendar year following the death". Punishments can range from two months in prison and a Dh10,000 (US$2,700) fine to six months and Dh500,000. In addition, equipment can be confiscated, the company concerned can be closed for up to six months and the judgement must be published in the media at the guilty party's expense.
One Dubai-based promoter, who has brought many international artists to the region, said they charged exorbitant fees to appear here to make up for the lack of royalties. Nad al Kubaisi, a co-owner of Etoiles nightclub in Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace hotel, said the club always tried to nurture local talent, bringing in home-grown bands such as Abri and D-Storm, as well as up-and-coming artists from other countries.
"If clubs don't play the music, it won't get known or played on the radio; we're both essential for the growth of new talent and new music clubs and radio stations are the ambassadors for local talent," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org