Putting an end to piracy in Myanmar

A much needed copyright law has to find its way into parliamentary waters.

Pirates beware! A law protecting intellectual property (IP) could soon cannonball your ships full of illegally downloaded data.

The Union Parliament is indeed set to debate a law protecting the creative works of writers, artists, singers and filmmakers. When will the law be voted and take effect largely depends on how the discussions go in parliament, but a draft is making its way through the various committees already.

Today, intellectual property in Myanmar falls under the 1914 Copyright Act, a legislation drawn up by the Brits in colonial times. Not many people had DVD players a century ago – neither did anyone under the impoverished years of military dictatorship. But in 2012, the Thein Sein administration felt that the patchy legal framework was deterring foreign investments. Then talks about revising Myanmar’s intellectual property law started.

The new law received by Parliament takes a specific look at artistic creation and separates it from patent, industrial design and trademark. The law’s full title in Burmese is “Literature and Art Copyright Law”.

One of the effects of the law will be to drain out street vendors selling pirated copies of movies – to give a taste of how much the industry is losing, as one such copy costs around K300, but a legal copy about 10 times more. Under the previous law, pirates were slapped with a K17 fine – the equivalent of a tical of gold in colonial times; they will now face a ticket of up to K5 million.

Another effect of the law should be to significantly increase the quality of translated content, explains Aung Soe Oo, a writer and a longtime IP lawyer. Today, Burmese translators simply take originals books, translate them and publish them. In the future, approval from the creator or his or her rightful heir should be seeked. The Burmese version of Madame Bovary might actually become interesting; Harry Potter’s fans will stop screaming.

All hands on deck!

Just after the release of the draft, the Myanmar Publishers and Booksellers Association (MPBA) held its first meeting and invited writers, publishers, booksellers and distributors to discuss the draft.

Stressing the need to tackle the issue and come forward with a proposal, the Vice-Chair of the association declared: “It is time for all of the people from the literature and art sector to come together.” But few shared his sense of urgency – out of the 100 people invited, just 20 showed up.

“Most people really don’t understand how important this law is,” says U Myint Htun, the secretary of the MPBA. “It is a cultural trait here: people show interest only when they are faced with a problem. They don’t think prevention is better than [a] cure.”

“Some writers told me that they do not mind seeing their work posted on Facebook by some strangers,” he fumes. According to him, that model is not sustainable. He has a point.

The main goal of the copyright law is to guarantee the property of artists and owners of copyright. Practically, anyone making creative content would be able to register it as its property and claim protection in case of theft or publication and use without prior authorisation.

The draft law seen by Weekend does just that. It includes broadcasting, live performances, handcrafts, audio and video recording, photo and music.

But in its current form, the text crafted by the office of the Attorney General doesn’t only attract prayers from the industry.

“The draft is difficult for me to understand,” says Myay Hmone Lwin, the founder of Ngar Do Sar Pay Book Publishing, who attended the MPBA event. For a start, the title is confusing. He does not understand why it isn’t simply “copyright law”.

“I think it is still needed to fix a lot of things.” For Myay Hmone Lwin the text is too light on the details and he wonders how implementation will work. He also suspects that the law is more about giving more power to the relevant ministry, than protecting creators. He fears the administration’s oversight but also their use of artistic content.

U Kyaw Zayya, a publisher, believes that the new law should draw the lessons from the 1914 copyright law. He recalls that, as a music fan, he used to buy books with the lyrics of his favorite tunes so he could learn them by heart. But based on the copyright law, songwriters prevented the production of such lyric books. The words, they said, were theirs. Lyric books disappeared from shop shelves, and are now sold illegally.

Artwork also suffered from legal standoffs. Shwe Mann Tin Maung’s musical masterpiece “Life of Buddha” almost disappeared after a protracted dispute between his heirs and his producer over ownership of copyright. Both sides could not agree to convert it digitally. Thankfully, some fans had recorded it. Today, it can be listened to, but only on pirates’ blogs.

In fact, few in the industry understood the concepts imported from British law. One hope is that – through the debate in Parliament – lawmakers and civil society will get acquainted with the legal principles around the IP law.

But getting the right law isn’t everything. It then has to be applied.

“Few people care about legal documents here,” says U Maung Maung, a legal advisor for the Ministry of Commerce. In fact, who would?

A recent report from Justice Base, a Soros-funded NGO, gave a damning account of the state of the judiciary in Myanmar: Sleepy judges, sloppy clerks, corrupted officials and endless procedures; everything that can go wrong in a courtroom seems to happen on a more-or-less frequent basis.

Pirates, however, still have a few caches of sweet booty to dig up before the law catches up.

Source : Myanmar Times

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