New copyright law will hurt small businesses, claim MPs

New copyrights legislation passed on Wednesday could potentially be harmful for small businesses in the country, MPs from both sides of the aisle cautioned at yesterday’s sitting of parliament.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom argued that the new laws would pose challenges for small business who rely on “fake products”.

“The government should conduct broad awareness programmes to circulate information on the new law, it would be a huge loss for the small businessman,” he said. “But the bill is more like a prevention bill than a bill dedicated for punishments.”

Once ratified, anyone found guilty of violating the Copy Right Act could be fined between Rf50,000-Rf300,000 (US$3800-US$23,400) or sentenced for six months imprisonment or banishment.

“My greatest concern is that people might suffer the penalties without knowing about the Copy Right Act. Not being informed is not an excuse before the law,” Dr Mausoom said.

It was essential for the government to establish a culture of respecting the rule of law within the government, he added.

Speaking at the 47th session of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in September 2009, former Economic Development Minister Mohamed Rasheed announced that the Maldives intended to be in full compliance with international intellectual property (IP) obligations by December 2010.

At yesterday’s sitting, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Shifaz agreed with opposition MPs that the law could create complications for small businesses.

“Small businesses rely on the market of trading copied properties, either it is T-shirts, videos or songs,” Shifaz said. “After this law is enforced the trade of fake logo products would be prohibited.”

Shifaz said that the government intended to provide assistance for small businesses to adjust to the new legal framework.

“I personally think the amount of the fine is way too high, however, that is passed now, and now we are trying to figure out a solution,” he said. “It is also questionable whether the new Act can actually be enforced.”

However, Dr Mausoom argued that the Act could be enforced if owners of intellectual property seek protection under the new laws.

“It is their product and they should start taking legal action for losses and then there is the role of the government as well,” he said.

A number of small businesses in the Maldives rely heavily on the trade of pirated products, notably in the music and movie industries.

Pirated copies of video games and computer software are highly popular among Maldivian customers – even the cash-strapped government has been observed to regularly use illegitimate software.

However the lack of copyright legislation has led to reluctance among foreign investors to invest in a market with no legal protections.