The New UAE Copyright Law 2021: Key Takeaways – Intellectual Property

United Arab Emirates:

The New UAE Copyright Law 2021: Key Takeaways

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In late 2021, the UAE Government adopted the largest legislative
changes in its history by issuing 50 new laws which coincided with
the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the UAE. One of these new
laws, was the long anticipated UAE Copyright Law.

The UAE has issued a new Federal Law No. 38 of 2021 concerning
Copyright & Neighbouring Rights (New Copyright Law) that
replaced the old Federal Law No. 7 of 2002 (Old Copyright Law),
where it has introduced significant changes to take account of the
fast-moving digital world we now live in. The New Copyright Law
came into force on 2 January 2022. However, as at the date of
writing, we are still waiting for the publication of the
Implementing Regulations, which will add some further clarity to
certain aspects of the New Copyright Law. These are expected to be
published and come into force later in 2022.

What are the key changes to the UAE copyright regime brought
about by the New Copyright Law?

  • An interesting and long-awaited addition to the New Copyright
    Law is the concept of “work made for hire” which is a
    work created by an employee, commissioned by an employer and which
    the employer compensates such employee for the same. The employer
    will be considered the legal author of such work (unless otherwise
    agreed) under the New Copyright Law (which is a departure from the
    Old Copyright Law). This concept applies in the following two
    scenarios: (1) if the author creates the work for the benefit of
    another person, the copyright belongs to the latter; and (2) if the
    author creates the work within the scope of employment using the
    employer’s resources, tools, information etc., the copyright
    belongs to the employer. Situations where the employee will remain
    the copyright holder are the following: (1) if the author creates
    the work outside the scope of employment and not related to the
    business or activities of the employer and (2) if the author
    creates the work without using the employer’s resources, tools,
    information etc.

  • Under the Old Copyright Law, there were restrictions around
    transfer of future copyright works, where only 5 or less future
    works could be assigned. While there remains restrictions in
    relation to the transfer of future copyright works, the expectation
    is that the number will increase from 5 works. The law does not
    specifically state how many future works a copyright holder will be
    able to validly transfer contractually, as this will be provided in
    the Implementing Regulation of this law. The expectation is that it
    could be at least 10 future works. This is an improvement on the
    current position, but will still mean that care will be taken when
    dealing with third parties who may be creating multiple works for

  • The law still prevents the assignment or waiver of moral

  • There are provisions for an author (or successors) to withdraw
    copyrighted work from circulation based on justified reasons.
    However, such withdrawals expressly exclude the possibility of
    withdrawing smart applications, computer programmes and
    applications from circulation, which in turn provides third parties
    with a further incentive to securely invest in the

  • With respect to joint works where a number of individuals
    collectively create a work, where it is not possible to separate
    the share of the work, all joint authors will equally co-own such a
    work and will be considered joint creators (unless otherwise
    agreed). No author can individually exercise the copyright, without
    prior agreement. In the event any of them dies leaving no heirs,
    his/her respective share shall go to the other joint creators.

  • With respect to a copyright holder that does not have any
    heirs, the rights of such works will be taken over by the Ministry
    of Economy which will continue to exercise the relevant moral
    rights with the aim of preserving such works.  

  • There is greater clarity around copyright works for software
    related entities, with the introduction of a specific copyright
    work to protect smart applications, computer programmes and
    applications, databases, and similar works as determined by the
    Ministry of Economy. With such areas being of key importance in the
    UAE’s fast-paced development in the tech and innovations space,
    it is a significant step in offering this clear protection to such
    works. Software companies, and entities commissioning software
    developers should ensure that these new works are included in any
    agreements relating to the commercialisation of such rights.

  • The New Copyright Law also makes clear the ownership around
    Architectural Designs, which is of importance in the UAE, given
    that it is the home of so many unique and iconic buildings. Under
    the new law, it has been expressly stated that the ownership of the
    copyright in architectural designs vests in the owner of the
    property, rather than the original author who created the
    architectural design (unless otherwise agreed). Again, this is an
    important factor for rights holders in iconic buildings,
    particularly with the emergence of the Metaverse and more real
    estate companies looking to commercialise or enforce rights in
    landmark buildings.  

  • As with the Old Copyright Law, there remains strong protection
    around photographs, but also the subject matter of any photograph.
    The general theme remains protection of an individual’s rights.
    For example, where a photograph or sound or visual recording
    involves an individual, it will not be possible for the works to be
    published, exhibited, distributed or kept, without the permission
    of the person. There are some exceptions around public events, but
    only where the publication or circulation will not prejudice the
    honour, reputation or standing of the person. It will be important
    for any media company, or company commissioning photographs or
    other forms of recording, to ensure that consent of all individuals
    is obtained in order to validly use and exploit such works.

  • The New Copyright Law also added the concept of “fair
    use” with respect to reproduction of the copyrighted work in
    limited circumstances. This law now permits reproduction of a
    copyright work without infringing an author’s intellectual
    property rights in certain situations, some of which are briefly
    outlined below. Please note, that there are further restrictions
    and qualifications around these limited areas, so please seek legal
    advice before considering any “permitted uses”:

    1. reproduction of a copyrighted work as a single copy for purely
      personal use (noting there are exceptions to certain works for
      personal use);

    2. reproduction is an incidental and integral part of the process
      of digitally transmitting the work between different parties;

    3. reproduction is made by a person authorised by the rightful
      owner or by law to carry out the transmission or broadcast of the
      relevant work;

    4. reproduction is inevitable and incidental in order to
      accomplish a lawful action and in a manner that ensures that the
      copy is automatically erased without being able to be

  • People with visual or physical impairments will be permitted to
    use an accessible format or copy of a work for personal use. Also,
    there are provisions for accredited non-profit entities to also
    have limited rights to reproduce works in an accessible format, for
    non-profit purposes. There will be further guidance around these
    provisions in the Implementing Regulations.

  • There are provisions for the creation of a new committee by the
    Ministry of Economy under the name “The Grievances Committee
    for Copyrights & Neighbouring Rights”. This will be the
    competent authority to hear and decide all disputes related to
    copyright or neighbouring rights.

  • The New Copyright Law also introduces increased sanctions and
    penalties in case of violations and infringements of copyrights.
    The penalties for infringements have been increased to AED 100,000
    (approximately USD 27,500). For example, the sanction for
    infringing one of the moral or financial rights of the author has
    been increased to AED 100,000 from AED 50,000 (in the Old Copyright
    Law). Further, the penalties for using a computer program or
    applications without obtaining a license from the author or
    successors could lead to fines of at least AED 100,000 to AED
    1,000,000 (USD 275,000). Previously the fine was AED 30,000 (USD
    8,175) under the Old Copyright Law.

The new laws go a long way to removing and addressing concerns
under the Old Copyright Law – particularly around ownership of
employee created rights.

However, in a number of areas, the default position in the New
Copyright Law is clear, but with the qualification of “unless
otherwise agreed”, or similar wording. Due to this, and also
restrictions around assignment of future rights etc, we recommend
that employers and also companies entering agreements around the
creation of copyrights, ensure that the ownership position is
clearly addressed in any and all such agreements. This will remove
any ambiguity and will help ensure the rights are transferred to
your business. It will also be good practice to continue with
confirmatory assignments on creation of works, especially
commercially important rights, in order to ensure the ownership of
the works is clear and you have supporting written proof of
transfer of such ownership.

We will provide an update once the Implementing Regulations are
issued, as these will provide further guidance on the above, and
other areas under the New Copyright Law.

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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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