Qatar Debuts Anti-Cybercrime Law

19 December 2014

Qatar Debuts Anti-Cybercrime Law

Qatar has recently introduced a cybercrime law as part of its efforts to address the changing nature of technology and the issues that an increasingly well-connected population entails.


“Qatar has high levels of internet connectivity, with 96% of households now connected to the internet, a six-point jump since last year, according to a new report from the UN Broadband Commission,” says Ra’ed Alhout, a Doha-based trademark administrator at Middle East regional law firm Al Tamimi & Co. “This tends to suggest that Qatar retains its ranking as the second-highest among 132 developing countries in terms of online connectivity. With this increase in internet usage, there is inevitably the threat of an increase in cybercrime.”


Under Article 13 of the new law, the breach of intellectual property rights using the internet could result in a fine of up to QR500,000 (US$137,000) and a term of imprisonment of up to three years. Intellectual property rights covered by the law include copyrights, patents, trade secrets, trademarks, trade names, geographical indications, industrial designs and designs of integrated circuits.


“In addition to the current Qatar Trademark Law, I believe that this new law will empower IP owners to further protect their rights against cybercrimes as the legislator has included dissuasive sanctions in respect of IP cybercrimes,” says Alhout.


Additionally, the forgery of an official electronic document could lead to imprisonment of 10 years and a maximum fine of QR200,000 (US$55,000). The impersonation of individuals or entities, identity theft or the theft of property by means of the internet could all result in a similar punishment. There is also a fine of up to QR200,000 and a maximum imprisonment of three years for the unauthorized use or possession of an electronic ATM or credit card, or the forgery or theft of one. The cybercrime situation in Qatar is not particularly bad, but the new law comes at an appropriate time, according to Alhout.


“Online IP infringement remains under control in Qatar, but the approach of the FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup may prove to be a testing time,” he says. “Most of the international companies will market and promote their products and services via the internet, which will require specific laws to protect their rights from any attempts to falsify or deceive over the internet.”


Alhout says that traditional, noncyber forms of infringement in the local market still occur at rates that are higher than online infringement, but these remain within the normal range in the Gulf region. Qatar’s Consumer Protection Department is also working to reduce the number of counterfeit goods sold in the country to further protect IP rights. Alhout is optimistic about the state of IP infringement and enforcement.


“The Qatari government and its regulations have made significant progress and improvement to set adequate mechanisms to any brand owners seeking enforcement. Both administrative and court actions are available for brand owners to prompt an effective enforcement of their IP and trademark rights,” he says. “The administrative anti-counterfeiting actions in Qatar are one of the advanced and favourable options to brand owners, which makes the state enforcement scheme one of the most efficient among GCC countries and in the region.”


But he concedes that there is still room to develop the enforcement scheme and adopt new procedures that increase the level of proactiveness and cooperation with the private sector. The level of awareness and compliance in the local market also needs to improve. One of the drawbacks to the new law is to be found in the provisions referring to “content crimes,” says Alhout.


These make the publication of “false news” illegal, but the problem is that the term is not specifically defined, which makes it unclear exactly what type of content would qualify as “false news” and would thus lead to local journalists and social media users receiving a criminal punishment. “Therefore, news agencies, social media users and journalists must be careful to verify the source of the news before broadcasting it to the public in order to avoid contravening the law,” Alhout says. As for the months ahead, Alhout is upbeat. “Qatar is a member of many IP conventions and affiliations, and the issue of the cybercrime law will positively improve our situation in the preferable markets for IP owners to invest their rights in Qatar,” he says.

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