The Legal Cut: A retrospective

    Media lawyer Saarah Badr rounds up some key legal issues discussed this year
    Saarah Badr, Bird & Bird.
    Saarah Badr, Bird & Bird.

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    The impact of multimedia platforms and interactive capabilities has certainly been a theme for this year, kicked off by ITP’s Broadcast Forum in February, which discussed “The Evolving Content Value Chain for TV & Film”. Key legal aspects debated during the seminar, and throughout this year, revolved around commercialising content, piracy and the regulation of content across the various distribution platforms.

    2015’s online battle

    The increasing risk of piracy, both for broadcast and online content, has been an ongoing theme of this year. Production giants, such as HBO, have been adjusting their business models in an attempt to incentivise legitimate viewing, with favourites such as Game of Thrones, reportedly the most pirated show in the world, being aired at the same time as the US in over 100 other territories worldwide (including, of course, the UAE). This availability of content should rebut many impatient fans’ complaints that they cannot view content legitimately and quickly, making them (hopefully) less likely to turn to pirates.

    Nevertheless, the battle rages between legitimate, licenced broadcasters and illegal sites offering professional-looking, sponsored, video on demand content, without having obtained the necessary licences from rights holders. The UAE’s Cybercrimes Law 2012 is explicitly clear that owning or operating a platform to provide illegal content is an offence, punishable by imprisonment and a fine.

    2015: Sooo OTT

    Further, with this year’s launch of another regional OTT (Over The Top) online subscription streaming service, the debate has moved to whether online content that targets a UAE audience can legally be “unedited”.

    The Cybercrime Law prohibits anyone operating an electronic site from publishing material on that site which could “prejudice public morals”. Breach of the law can be penalised by both custodial sentences and fines of at least AED250,000.

    This is, therefore, a potentially wide restriction on unedited, Hollywood style content that could easily fall foul of these strict rules (although is often a key reason for subscription to the service in the first place). Arguably, however, pay subscription services (whether broadcast or online) enable viewers to exercise greater choice in the content they are viewing which could be positioned as a defence to incorporating stronger content on the service. However, whether this defence would be awarded any merit if an issue arose with the content is debatable and should be discussed with legal experts (as should many of these complex issues, should they arise).

    Second screen, Singapore

    The (reasonably new) “second screen” phenomena was a hot topic for the year at Singapore’s vast international media conference, Broadcast Asia.

    This is (generally speaking) the use of a mobile device to enhance the experience of an audience viewing content on TV. The audience interacts with the broadcast by commenting and actively participating on their “second screen”.

    Whilst legal issues may not be apparent, an unofficial blog that includes, for example, clips from “The Voice” (perhaps asking audience members to vote for their favourite) may be in breach of the UAE Copyright Law (No. 7 of 2002). The clip is an audiovisual work, with the rights in that work owned or licenced by the broadcaster. Use of the clip on a blog, without the permission of the copyright holder/licencee, is a breach of those rights and, therefore, the law.

    It’s a wrap!

    As we leave 2015 legal issues behind, what’s in store for 2016? Piracy will inevitably continue to cause issues for content owners, requiring the industry to become more imaginative in their attempts to keep the pirates at bay, with, perhaps, an increased focus on coordinated industry action between the key broadcaster, media and telecommunications stakeholders.

    Further, with the influx of OTT platforms to the UAE, we may also see an increased interest by the authorities in the regulation of those streaming services. Traditional broadcasters are required to hold a broadcast licence to disseminate content (ultimately approved by the UAE’s media regulator, the National Media Council), whereas online platforms are not currently licenced in this way.

    Finally, enjoy the festive season and happy new year!

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