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“Copyright is my right. Buy a license or you’ll have trouble with the police,” croons Egyptian pop singer Shaban Abd el-Reheem on his latest album. His recording is one of the many unconventional weapons waged in the battle to stop the rampant piracy of records, software, movies, and books in Egypt, whose 65 million people make up the biggest consumer market in the Middle East. In February, the Business Software Alliance, the group that represents Microsoft, Adobe, and other software makers concerned about piracy, signed up another unusual partner — the grand muftis at Al Azhar in Cairo. The highest religious authority in Sunni Islam, Sheikh Ibrahim Atta Allah, issued a fatwa, or edict, against piracy. “Piracy is the worst type of theft and is prohibited by Islam,” Atta Allah declared. Not all piracy measures call on higher powers. After nearly a decade of U.S. persuasion and $7 million in technical IP assistance, a new IP law is under debate in the Egypt parliament. The law’s authors hope that it will pass before the People’s Assembly begins its summer recess on June 30. The draft of the law covers patents, trademark, copyright and plant varieties. Its most controversial section involves patents. To comply with the WTO’s TRIPS agreements (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), pharmaceuticals are to be patented under the new law. It’s a move that many Egyptians — from officials at the Ministry of Health on down — fear will push patented drug prices out of reach for most citizens. The copyright section of the draft law upgrades existing 1954 copyright law and has the support of industry and the government. Mohamed-Hossam Loutfi at the Shalakany Law Office, who helped draft the section, says that it increases existing penalties by adding three-year jail terms and fines of about $3,000 per infringement. “If we arrest someone for three infringements, there are three penalties,” says Loutfi. It also adds protection for “neighboring rights,” so that it safeguards the performer along with the record producer and the songwriter. New laws, however, only go so far. “The problem is not the law, it’s the practice, the people, and the enforcement,” says Samir Hamza, an attorney with Helmy & Hamza, an affiliate of Chicago’s Baker & McKenzie. Hamza helped draft the copyright section. Many Egyptians believe that it is not wrong to copy tapes, software, movies, or books. The fatwa on piracy may help. The day after it was issued, a major Egyptian business executive phoned Microsoft’s Cairo offices and asked the company to review all of his software and to remove any illegal copies, says Ghada Khalifa, antipiracy manager at Microsoft Egypt. “When he [the businessman] was told that it was haram (Arabic for “forbidden”), he called and said ‘I’m not going to keep it for one more minute,’” says Khalifa. Software companies estimate losses from piracy in Egypt at $12 million in 2000. However, there has been progress in reducing theft in the last few years. The estimated piracy rate has been brought down from 85 percent in 1999 to 56 percent today. Officials at the Ministry of Culture have been writing letters to companies reminding them of the law and of a deal in which Microsoft granted campus licenses to educational institutions. In the music industry, piracy remains rampant — virtually all international releases are pirated — but the rate may come down dramatically with the new law and with the recent entry of the world’s biggest recording companies into the Egyptian market. In October, Sony Music released Michael Jackson’s “Invincible” CD in Egypt on the day of its release in the rest of the world. “We decided it would be better for us to come to Egypt and fight piracy than to sit in New York and wait for Egypt to clean it up,” says Kevin Ridgely, vice president for Sony Music’s Middle East division. Ridgely says that until recently the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, the authority responsible for issuing licenses for imported music, has been lax about issuing licenses to pirate organizations. For example, says Ridgely, “The Mariah Carey back catalogs are already registered — to six pirate companies.” Sony, along with Universal, which arrived in Egypt in December, are confident that the new law and an aggressive PR campaign, along with their own better-quality tapes and CDs, will eventually squeeze the pirates out. But reaping royalties from the music they sell in Egypt is not the whole strategy. The big reason the recording industry wants to get into Egypt is, the companies say, that the time is right to sign up Arab singers and market them internationally. Ghada Tosson, senior executive of business development for Mirage Records, the Universal licensee in Cairo, says she’s already signed three singers whom she hopes to promote internationally. Some Egyptian singers may be a tough sell in the United States. When he’s not singing against piracy, el-Reheem, belts out “I Hate Israel.” Egypt’s proposed law is designed to satisfy TRIPS. As a developing country, Egypt has until January 2005 to comply with the international accord. Hamza says he is hopeful the law will clear the People’s Assembly by June. But there is no guarantee, especially given the controversy over the pharmaceutical patents section of the law and a new national priority — passing a money-laundering law as part of the move to crack down on terrorists’ bank accounts. After all, some things are more important than piracy.

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