x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pirated software resurfaces in Oman

The business of pirated software is beginning to thrive in Oman, despite the passing of a copyright protection law in 2003.

Abdullah al Rawahi, a Muscat-based retailer of computer games who hopes the piracy clampdown works, says most of the demand for pirated software is from young people.
Abdullah al Rawahi, a Muscat-based retailer of computer games who hopes the piracy clampdown works, says most of the demand for pirated software is from young people.

MUSCAT // The business of pirated software is beginning to thrive in Oman, despite the passing of a copyright protection law in 2003 following pressure from the World Trade Organisation for failing to clamp down on the illegal trade. Violators of the law face a minimum penalty of 2,000 rials (Dh 19,000) and up to two years in prison. The government successfully clamped down on piracy in the first four years of the law's existence, until authorities decided to ban expatriates from businesses dealing in intellectual property such as music, video games, movies, and computer software, local businessmen said. "It was easy then to stop expatriates from selling these products because deportation was part of the punishment. Also, it was not easy for expatriates to distribute the pirated copies in the country without a local connection. Since this business is now entirely run by Omani nationals, the government is struggling to contain it because nationals can't be deported and they always wriggle out of trouble when they are caught," said Abdullah al Rawahi, a Muscat-based authorised dealer for PlayStation and computer games. But authorities denied that the rejuvenation of the trade in pirated material has anything to do with the ban on foreign-owned businesses. "It is misleading to say that the decision to ban expatriates from selling intellectual property products has revived the illegal trade. As a matter of fact, from the arrests we have been making in the past two years, there's strong evidence that suggests expatriates are smuggling the pirated copies into the country that end up in the Omani-owned retail shops," a spokesman for the intellectual property department of the Royal Oman Police said. The ban, which was introduced in 2007, is part of the government's drive to create self-employment for nationals and reduce the number of expatriates in Oman. The sultanate has also barred expatriates from owning and running mobile telephone and computer shops. The police spokesman said smugglers were mostly caught at the Oman-UAE border and on speedboats coming from Iran to the northern province of Musandam. But the question of why the illegal trade is growing just two years after a successful clampdown remains. Most of the former expatriate retailers of pirated products who left the country have been coming back on short-term visas after Oman relaxed the visiting rule three years ago. "If we can't make money this way, we can make it in another way for the same trade. Our Omani friends in our former retail shops are now our new business partners," said a former Indian resident in Oman and now a visiting businessman who gave his name as Mukesh Nair. Without providing details, he said he was one of the "border raiders" who passed the borders undetected by law enforcers using various tactics. But the real catalyst for the illegal trade is both demographic and economic, businessmen said. "Oman is a young nation, where more than 60 per cent of the population are people under the age of 25. Young people cannot afford to pay the price of the original CDs or DVDs, be it music, games or movies. You can buy a PlayStation's CD game for just as little as one rial when the price of the original is 30 to 40 rials," Mr al Rawahi said. Mr al Rawahi estimated that young people in the country spend at least a million rials a month on pirated CDs and DVDs, and that the amount doubles during school holidays and Eid. According to his estimates, the market for pirated materials takes away between 30 million and 40 million rials a year from the local economy because profits would be much greater if money were spent on the genuine products. "Yes, we know about 'border raiders' ? I really hope the authorities beef up detection procedures at the borders to bring them to justice," he said. foreign.desk@thenational.ae