This month has seen the issue of copyright return to the regional agenda, as it does periodically, and it’s been a case of both good and bad news all things considered. Universal Music has been central to recent developments.
First of all with the launch of PopArabia. This new music publishing and music rights consultancy was launched by UAE entrepreneur Hussein Spek Youssuf, who is an experienced music publisher and enjoys the support of twofour54 ibtikar.
It has secured the rights to become the exclusive representative in the Arab region for Universal Music Publishing Group, the world’s largest independent music publisher.
That gives PopArabia access to a host of some of the best known artists in the world, and while the list may not be comprehensive it’s worth bearing in mind that when you add the host of film soundtracks the Universal Group also publishes to the list, many more artists have at least some material available under the banner, albeit perhaps not their full catalogue.
Labels published under the Universal umbrella include A&M, Island and Interscope, with over 100 years worth of leading artists on its books.
Next up was the launch of HP Play, again in association with Universal. HP Play is the among the region’s first legal music download sites. It’s long been a source of dark humour for me that sites such as iTunes remains unavailable, or seriously restricted in the region. The reasons for this seem to be two-fold.
Firstly, the lack of an efficient royalties-collection agency in the region means that download stores would not be able to ensure the correct rights owners are paid.
Secondly, in many cases the regional rights to films or music are owned by a regional distributor, so for a store like iTunes to sell the content here would be an infringement of the regional licence holder’s rights. The irony is that this in turn pushes local consumers to illegal download sites instead, where there is an absolute guarantee that no royalties will be collected.
Schemes such as HP Play are a step in the right direction. For a subscription fee, consumers can access the whole of Universal’s catalogue on the HP Play site legally, and presumably with royalties being directed appropriately. On the film and TV side too, the launch of OSN Play equally suggests improvement.
Nonetheless, there’s still a long way to go. The region’s radio and TV channels routinely use copyrighted music without paying royalties (doubtless in part due to the lack of said collections agencies, but would they really applaud if one was set up tomorrow to eat into profits?) while the scandal over Saudi Airlines’ screening of a pirated film, although it later transpired that the company may have held the rights to the real version, shows that the disregard for copyright laws extends beyond the media industries.
The issue seems one that no one is prepared to talk about, even though most of the Gulf governments are signatories to all the international agreements on the matter.
Indeed, prior to publication word escaped that, later in this issue, PRS for Music (the UK collections agency which has been running a long campaign in the region to assert its members rights)’s Iain Kemplay was writing on the matter. We were surprised by the speed at which major media organisations sought to distance themselves from his opinions.
If the region wishes to have a succesful content creation industry, it will have to accept that the creators of that content need to be rewarded for the work. If not they will be lost to industries where they are, while the region’s creative industry’s will be the sole preserve of hobbyists or those with a trust fund to their name.
Chris Newbould is editor of Digital Studio magazine at ITP Business Publishing.