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LEGAL OPINION: Copyright law in the Middle East

by CW Guest Columnist on Jan 18, 2009

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Rob Deans, Clyde & Co
Rob Deans, Clyde & Co

Rob Deans, head of Intellectual Property at Clyde & Co, discusses the growing significance of intellectual property law, and specifically copyright, for the construction sector in the Middle East.

Copyright law is of vital concern in the construction sector. Copyright protection is available for the original design of a building. Any original building will automatically be protected by copyright, which means that the building’s design cannot be reproduced elsewhere without the authorisation of the copyright owner.

Although copyright will arise in any original building, it is particularly useful for the protection of iconic buildings because these are the builder that are most likely to be copied by other buildings or reproduced for exploitation in a different form, for instance as souvenirs. 

Old vs new

Building copyright is not indefinite, but is only of limited duration.  For instances, the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and even the Eiffel Tower are now out of copyright.  This means that these iconic buildings can be freely reproduced in new developments and amusement parks such as Dubailand, and other projects which feature replicas or scaled models of these ancient monuments.

Buildings such as the Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers or Burj Dubai are all buildings that have been built recently and therefore remain within the laws of copyright, and will continue to enjoy copyright protection for a number of years.

Relevance to the UAE construction sector

The UAE, and Dubai in particular, are being developed at record rates with a high number of buildings under construction. The next generation of potentially iconic buildings are in the pipeline and will be ready soon. 

The property development industry in the UAE is also witnessing an increasing trend towards branded residences and hotel complexes which combine new architectural designs with interior designs, with the building name contributed by existing well known designer labels, such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Armani.

Unlike other developing economies, rather than relying on the exploitation of imported intellectual property (IP), the region is also prolific in the development of local brands and associated IP.  Large numbers of local brands, including Jumeirah, Emirates and Etihad, have grown to be extremely valuable brands with strong reputations well beyond the UAE. 

The government has developed mechanisms to guard against the pilfering of IP assets and mechanisms are already in place which offer redress for aggrieved owners of IP rights.  These mechanisms include the powers granted to police and customs to seize counterfeit goods, as well as the provision for both civil and criminal actions to be taken through the UAE courts.

Region’s peculiarities

It is important to keep the jurisdiction in mind when taking stock of your rights in any country, and local advice should always be sought to avoid unpleasant surprises. 

For instance, in relation to the ownership of copyright, the rules which apply in the UAE are not the same as in many other countries.  As a result, additional documentation will generally need to be put in place in order to deal with ownership of copyright. 

This will ensure that, as appropriate, copyright is owned either by the individual architect responsible for the design, or by the company he works for or by the owner of the building who commissioned the design.

In addition, while copyright protection is granted automatically on the creation of a work, the UAE allows copyright owners to record their copyright works with the UAE Copyright Office.  This option is not available in many countries.

In the UAE, however, this is a very common procedure and one that should be undertaken as soon as possible after the design of a building has been created, in order to make the enforcement process as straightforward as possible in the event that this becomes necessary.

CURRICULUM VITAE

Rob Deans read law at Cambridge University before training with a City of London firm. Upon qualification as a solicitor in England in 1994, Rob moved to Hong Kong where he was admitted to the role of solicitor in 1995.  He relocated to the Middle East in 2003 when he joined Clyde & Co.He specialises in intellectual property, sports and media law and advises on all aspects of IP, both contentious and non-contentious.He has been ranked as a leading lawyer by Chambers Global 2008 Directory.

His recent experiences include:

  • Advising on a wide variety of intellectual property issues and agreements across a broad range of commercial contexts.
  • Providing strategic advice on the development and protection of brands, both within the Middle East and elsewhere.
  • Managing the registration and maintenance of trade marks and patents for a range of local and international clients.
  • Enforcing intellectual property rights internationally, including running regional anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy programmes. Enforcement work has covered an extensive range of products ,   trade mark, and unfair competition.

If you would like to write for Construction Week in this column, please email rob.wagner@itp.com


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