On January 28th, 2008, the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and the IZDIHAR Project co-hosted Iraq’s first Iraqi Copyright Awareness Conference. While it was awarded minimal media coverage, the rare congregation of authors, creators, painters, innovators and government representatives exemplified the manner in which the political and social landscape is shifting in post-Saddam Iraq. The conference illuminated issues surrounding the existing copyright regime in Iraq and raised questions regarding reforming the current laws to accommodate for the needs of authors, businesses, software programmers and innovators. “Improvements” such as increased penalties, rapid judicial enforcement and policy alignment with the World Trade Organization were brought to the forefront of the discussion.
Abdul Haidi Khdum, a renowned Iraqi author, emphasized the relevance of copyright issues in the lives of Iraqis through recounting his own lost opportunities due to the illegal translation of copyrighted material abroad. He also mentioned the importance of copyright enforcement abroad, which facilitates receiving royalty fees that enable authors to sustain their work.
As the event came to a close, Ali Omar Fatah, Chief Legal Counsel of the Ministry of Culture stated that
[The conference] showed the importance of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) reform to stimulate Iraqi innovation, protect its cultural and artistic creations, advance the Iraqi economy and increase our country’s standing as an advanced nation in the global trading community.
This conference was touted as a wonderful opportunity to reach out to a very fragmented community of Iraqi artists, creators and innovators. However, it also served to forward the interests of the business community through steering the focus towards Iraq’s accession into the World Trade Organization.
In April 2004, Paul Bremer, the Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Post-War Iraq, amended Copyright Law No. 3 of 1971 and instilled the current copyright regime in Iraq. The amendments were made to ensure that Iraqi copyright law met current internationally-recognized standards of protection and aimed to incorporate the modern standards of the World Trade Organization into Iraqi law. While the amendments made by Bremer do align the Iraqi copyright regime with the World Trade Organization standards, the fact that the conference held in January 2008 calls for enforcement of the laws through increased penalties alludes to the fact that the laws are quite bulimic. Without proper enforcement, the copyright laws are useless.
I had difficulty finding information regarding the enforcement of copyright laws in Iraq since 2004. However, as an Iraqi who lived in Baghdad during the regime of Saddam Hussein, I am having trouble reconciling the tensions that lie between the lines. On one hand, I recognize that one conference cannot possibly facilitate the change required to adequately protect the authors, innovators and creators from copyright infringement. I also recognize that this whole discussion of enforcing copyright laws in Iraq could be another guise by which the Iraqi people are further marginalized as a result of policies reforms stemming from the World Trade Organization.
I believe that the mere mention of an Iraqi Copyright Awareness Conference is a phenomenon in my mind. No more than a decade ago. authors in my family censored their articles and written pieces in fear of their lives. The notion of a congregation of authors and government officials discussing copyright issues was a laughable idea in a world where free press and freedom of expression was non-existent.
While the country is in the midst of intense political turmoil and the borders have been pried open to allow a surge of economic opportunities to flow into Iraq, the importance of establishing an Intellectual Property Rights regime that is robust and works for the interests of the Iraqi people becomes a pressing issue. The more I contemplate this issue, the number of questions I have increases as the number of answers I gain depletes, which is reflective of my experience Intellectual Property Law in general. IP is a messy and unclear labyrinth riddled many obstacles. There is very little indication that the improvements raised at the conference will actually be implemented. The odds are quite high that the status quo will be maintained and as such, Iraqi copyright law will remain an anorexic framework of empty promises. Without proper enforcement, we are faced with policy that is, once again, all bark and no bite.