CAIRO: A recent spar between advertising mogul Tarek Nour and a student who accused him of stealing ideas for his promos has ruffled feathers among young advertisers and internet users alike.
Tamer Azab, a web designer and student, created a Facebook group accusing Nour of copying other commercials in promos for his TV channel Al-Qahera Wal Nas (Cairo Centric).
The group attracted a large number of members, who expressed their frustration at what they described as Nour’s lack of creativity and infringement of intellectual property (IP) rights.
“The problem is that there are a lot of creative people who can do better than that but they never get the chance; instead people take the easy route and imitate foreign work, Azab said.
In a strategic move, Nour published ads in newspapers admitting that the promos were exact replicas of other commercials, boasting about how the Egyptian version is better.
In another ad, he announced a competition for viewers to spot one difference between the original clip and his own promos.
“If it wasn’t for this group, Nour wouldn’t have published these ads in the newspapers and it would have gone unnoticed. Online activism is one way to fight IP infringements, when one discovers something he should try to inform as many people as possible, Azab added.
According to Azab, IP infringements are common and often go unnoticed.
“The problem is that there is no awareness among people, Azab said, suggesting implementing harsher legal punishments for such violations.
Legality of IP rights
Eman Abdel Rahman, intellectual property and IT lawyer at Al Tamimi & Company law firm, says copyright piracy was one of the reasons Egypt was placed on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Priority Watch List.
The 2009 International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) report also said that Egypt is “a nightmare market for right holders, stunted by piracy, difficult bureaucracy, and almost unparalleled market access hurdles.
Trade losses due to copyright piracy amounted to nearly $119 million in 2007, with a piracy level of 32 percent for books and 15 percent for records and music, the report said.
However, Mohamed Hegazy, head of Intellectual Property Office at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, said that the problem is that people don’t register their work and don’t sign contracts with their partners.
“The problem is always the ownership of the product not the distribution of profits, Hegazy said.
According to experts, Egypt established a comprehensive legal framework to protect both local and foreign intellectual property and raise the public awareness as well.
A new Egyptian IP law was issued in 2002, the first since a 1954 law; also Egypt is part of almost all international IP rights agreements.
Hegazy and Abdel Rahman stated that it is not a question of laws, but rather the implementation of these laws.
Abdel Rahman suggests that intellectual property is poorly protected. “The lack of boundaries, inconsistent regulations and weak enforcement of intellectual property rights are some of the problems facing IP in Egypt, she said.
“Police officers, trademark/patent/design examiners, public prosecutors and governmental officials responsible for implementing these laws should be better trained about intellectual property, she explained.
Hegazy on the other hand said that while the current law is excellent, the executive laws like the verification laws and prosecution procedures need amendments.
“Also, recognizing electronic evidence in IP violation cases is much needed to facilitate our work, he said.
“People’s awareness and average prices for original products are part of the problem; that’s why we organize inspection campaigns in shopping malls and on the streets, awareness campaigns for the public as well as training courses for judges and policemen working in IP about various technical aspects, Hegazy said.
Initiatives are signed, Hegazy said, with companies to provide software at cheap prices to encourage people to rely on original products.
According to Hegazy, people need to be aware of the harmful consequences of piracy and IP infringements on the national economy and their personal lives.
“People need to realize that this is theft; further more, it denies them thousands of work opportunities, Hegazy said.
“On the other hand, increasing piracy will lead to companies quitting their business in Egypt and the increase of unemployment, Hegazy said.
A study by the Industrial Modernization Center (IMC) on the impact of the illicit trade on the interested parties in 2005 in Egypt concluded among its findings that the total size of illicit trade is approximately LE 21 billion in 2005 which resulted in government direct and indirect losses estimated at around LE 5 billion.
“Lack of information and the unique nature of intellectual property – resulting in different forms of infringements – restricted the government to rely on pure theoretical models and implement some simple statistical techniques, Abdel Rahman said.
Studies show that every job in software industry provides 5.5 related jobs; others said that reducing piracy by 10 percent would provide the communication industry with $375 million.
However, in the field of software piracy, Egypt has taken great strides, with piracy rates reduced to 59 percent from 69 percent four years ago.
Time to take action
As IP infringement cases increase, Hegazy blames owners for not taking legal action. “Sometimes the owners are indifferent as they weight the cost estimated and find that they won’t gain much by suing violators; others seek media exposure rather than legal action, Hegazy said.
“Law enforcement must be short in time and strong in its punishments to convince people that they would obtain their rights quickly and thus encourages them to rely on legal procedures, he added.
Nour is threatening to sue Azab for using the channel’s logo without permission and for defamation.
However, Abdel Aziz Aidaros, senior associate with Zulficar & Partners law firm, said that the posted links of the original videos support Azab’s position.
“Facebook is the same as any other medium that falls under the current legislations and only the courtroom decides if there are infringements of IP rights, Aidaros said.
According to Abdel Rahman, ideas can be copied but what differs is the means of expression. In Nour’s case, she said, the promos were exact replicas, which is considered an IP infringement.
However, she said that only the original owners of the commercials can sue Nour.
Owners who have been subject to IP infringements are advised to file their complaints to the Artistic Products Investigations Authority with documents proving their ownership.