Does the Arab World Need Stronger IP Enforcement?

Many Arab countries are part of the World Trade Organization’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”) and countries such as Jordan and Kuwait have enacted facially strong intellectual property (“IP”) laws.[1] Yet, individuals visiting the region are likely to encounter several common types of IP infringement. In Lebanon, it has become routine to intercept satellite transmissions and broadcast Western programming locally without permission.[2] In Saudi Arabia, banks have been accused of using counterfeit Microsoft products.[3] While some argue for stricter enforcement of IP laws to prevent the infringement prevalent in the region, such a strategy may be driven by Western commercialization and rather detrimental to local Arab economies.  


Collectivist societies often view intellectual property rights (“IPRs”) as community property while individualist cultures do not.[4] For example, the Western software industry is highly concerned with lax IP enforcement in the region.[5] Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian banks utilizing pirated copies of Microsoft products consider it their right to purchase one legal license for the software and make internally shared copies.[6] It follows that Microsoft loses the profits of selling individual licenses while the Saudi Arabian companies save money associated with purchasing the same product repeatedly. Moreover, The United States and Europe have pressured the Gulf states into adopting stricter IP regimes at the recommendation of private trade groups such as the U.S.-based International Intellectual Property Alliance.[7]  


Strict enforcement of IPRs may go against Arab public policy concerns. Police, for example, refuse to enforce laws against music pirates, declaring that such enforcement is not in the “public interest” and “courts are reluctant to pass judgement” on infringers.[8] Consider what could happen if local vendors were suddenly prosecuted in mass for pirating Western goods – businesses selling pirated goods account for a large sector of the Jordanian business community.[9] The social repercussions of forcing a large sector of the economy to close likely outweigh the policy considerations of enforcing Western IPRs.[10] Furthermore, consider the example of Jordanian engineers. Engineering software can sell for nearly $2,000.[11] Forcing local engineers to purchase individual licenses at these high prices may prevent Jordanians from learning how to use such software and negatively impact their ability to be competitive candidates for employment within the country.[12]


In conclusion, stricter enforcement of IPRs in the Middle East is likely impelled by Western commercial entities and is potentially detrimental to local economies. The fact that local authorities refuse to enforce the stricter IP laws that the Arab countries have enacted suggests that Middle Eastern IP enforcement is not a “home-grown” movement. Further, large sectors of Middle Eastern economies rely on trading pirated goods. Access to copyrighted materials is important in arming local professionals with the skills to be competitive in local and global job markets. Therefore, a comprehensive analysis of the local situation and public policy should be conducted prior to arguing that stricter IPRs should be enforced in the Middle East.

[1] See Eric Garduño & Frank J. Pietrucha, Intellectual Property Rights in the Arab World, 4 Geo. J. of Int’l Aff. 57, 60–61 (2003).

[2] John Carroll, Intellectual Property Rights in the Middle East: A Cultural Perspective, 11 Fordham Intell. Prop., Media & Ent. L.J. 555, 558 (2001).

[3] Id.

[4] Kari P. Kammel, IP Rights in the Middle East: Cultural Complexities Behind Legal Enforcement, A.B.A. (Apr. 1, 2020),

[5] See id.

[6] Carroll, supra note 2, at 558–59.

[7] Id. at 567.

[8] Id. at 561.

[9] Id. at 591.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.