An IPR refers to protecting the rights of creators of products of the intellect that have a market value. Jordan is committed to the stipulations of the EU-Jordan Association Agreement, the World Trade Organisation and the Jordan-US Free Trade Agreement; it is a signatory not only to the standard Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) but also to what is known as TRIPS plus. That is, Jordan imposed upon itself more commitments in regard to intellectual property than is usually required.
Has such a commitment benefited the country?
The argument that IPRs are necessary for attracting foreign direct investment is misinformed. IPRs are in the bottom half of the 10 most attractive issues for entry into a country by a foreign investor. Market size, market growth potential, transparency, stability of politics and legislation, availability of a well-trained labour force are much more important and precede IPRs in terms of importance.
Have the IPR commitments caused a growth in creative industries? Not really. The few and far-in-between successes witnessed in the creative industries are caused by individual perseverance, not institutional (including legislative) facilitation.
Our drug industry, dominated by importers of medicaments, is not progressing towards the creation of new drugs and the few attempts at attracting franchises in the pharmaceutical sector have not been successful. International drug companies cited market size as a deterrent to entry, and the local drug companies were more than happy to import drugs to sell to patients at unbearable costs, and greater profits.
The importers of medicine went on strike a few months ago because the Ministry of Health was three years overdue on payments for its imported medicine due to budgetary shortfalls. If the government cannot afford to pay for imported medication, why should it assume citizens can?
Aside from medicine, even pirated videotapes that are sold throughout the Kingdom have come to make sense. Not only is the quality comparable to the original, but prices are also affordable. Jordanians cannot afford original copies, which are edited anyway by Gulf censorship boards and according to their own standards - much stricter than Jordanian ones.
On the other hand, cinemas in Jordan charge more per ticket than their counterparts in the US where the income is 12 times the income in Jordan after accounting for the cost of living. Furthermore, films arrive in Jordan later than in some other Arab countries, not to mention the US or the EU.
Locally produced books and novels do not fare much better. Students at universities still use either copies translated by their professors, who force these upon them, or settle for bad copies of the original textbook. Meanwhile, Jordanian writers simply cannot afford to write.
The upshot is that before deciding on commitments in terms of enforcing IPRs upon the private sector, we should have had an implementable strategy for building and maintaining strong clusters in the creative industries. In order to do this, we would have had to resolve certain issues such as: capacity building; creating linkages among producers of similar and complementary products; strengthening the weak links of the supply chains (banks, training institutes, designers, packagers, printers, broadband; Internet access and coverage, etc.); solving bureaucratic bottlenecks (registration, laws, support institutions), supporting access and engagement by researchers and creative Jordanians who by their very nature are entrepreneurial, etc.
Furthermore, the way of doing creative industry is changing. David Bowie said in 2002, after the iPod was released by Apple: “I am fully confident that copyrights will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.”
His statement is eight years old. Thus, the monopoly rights on intellectual property are being undermined and eroded. The culprit is cyberspace, which brought the “free medium" business model where creative people are putting their products out for all to download and still making money.
Spotify, a service that streams music with little buffering delay has become so successful that it charges subscription and is by invitation only. Google, the company with $20 billion turnover per year, has been copying everything on the Internet to enable it and its customers to do quick searches. Has it been infringing copyrights? I am sure their lawyers will have an answer. The motto and principle strategy of Google may have been: do what you think is right and worry later. They succeeded.
The iconic group the Grateful Dead recently donated all its archives to the University of California at Santa Cruz, thus deciding not to stop people from downloading their stuff for free. What they lost in royalty rights they made up for in selling merchandise.
Simply imposing IPRs and making consequent commitments upon a nation places undue hardships and suffering upon the people and their industry with little reward. We need a national discussion on all the issues raised here. A group of us has already started a national discussion on UrdunMubdi3. It is free, easy, inclusive and many times useful.