With new copyright law, suite of Myanmar IP legislation ‘is now complete’

31 July 2019

With new copyright law, suite of Myanmar IP legislation ‘is now complete’ Myanmar’s new copyright law was enacted into law on May 24, joining the country’s new trademark law, industrial designs law and patent law, all of which came into affect earlier this year.

After years of waiting, Myanmar is finally home to a piece of modern copyright legislation.

On May 24, the country’s new copyright law was enacted into law, effectively repealing the old Copyright Act of 1914. The law, says Sher Hann Chua, a consultant at Tilleke & Gibbins in Bangkok, lays out the new legislative framework for the protection of literary and artistic works and other related rights, to be implemented through administrative bodies and subsidiary regulations that will be issued in due course.

Myanmar has long been in need of a new copyright law. When Asia IP visited Yangon in late 2014, one lawyer called IP laws “effectively non-existent, in the modern sense.” He went on to criticize the country’s copyright law in particular. “You might hear a song by, say, Justin Bieber dubbed into the Myanmar language, and played on the radio,” he said. “Under Myanmar’s copyright law, the singer who recorded the song locally has better rights to it than Bieber does.”

Chua, writing with her colleague, Yangon-based attorney Khin Myo Myo Aye, in a firm client alert, says that arguably the most notable feature of the new copyright law is that it accords copyright protection to foreign works, unlike the repealed Copyright Act of 1914. “Works created by non-citizens or nonresidents are protected if they are first published in Myanmar, or published in Myanmar within 30 days of first publication elsewhere,” they wrote. It is important to note that Myanmar is not yet a signatory of the Berne Convention, which would require member countries to grant the same copyright protection to nationals and foreigners, regardless of publication in the country.

“In line with international standards and practice, copyright in literary and artistic work subsists throughout the life of the author and for 50 years after their demise, whereas works of applied art are protected for a period of 25years. Audiovisual works and films are protected for 50 years from the date of publication only,” they write. “While copyright protection will arise automatically without the need for registration, it is possible to file for voluntary recordation of copyright under the new copyright law. Further, the law also addresses the protection of an author’s moral rights, such as the right of attribution and the right to integrity.”

The law also provides for the formation of statutory collective management organizations, which, upon approval, will have the authority to act on behalf of rights owners and to administer the rights assigned to them, they write. In addition, the law provides technological protection measures, and the unauthorized removal and alteration of digital rights management information is strictly prohibited.

The Tilleke & Gibbins client alert notes that offenses under the new law include the unauthorized reproduction, transmission and distribution of copyrighted works, the possession of infringing goods for commercial purposes, the importation of infringing items into Myanmar, and more. The minimum penalties stipulated for specified offences are imprisonment not exceeding one year and a fine not exceeding K1 million (US$660). Repeat offenders may be subject to imprisonment of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of up to K10 million (US$6,600).

“Border control measures are also available under the new copyright law, and the provisions in the law mirror the customs protection framework laid down in the trademark law,” they write.

Notably, they write, the unauthorized reproduction of literary and artistic works by libraries for non-commercial purposes will not constitute copyright infringement. Other statutory defenses to copyright infringement include use for reporting of news and current events, and reproduction for purposes of research and private study. Notwithstanding the above, the copyright law includes a provision allowing for a two-year transition period from the enforcement of the law, during which the distribution of unauthorized copies of protected works is permissible.

“With the promulgation of the copyright law, which comes after the recent enactment of the new trademark law, industrial designs law and patent law earlier this year, the long-awaited passage of all four pieces of IP legislation in Myanmar is now complete,” they write. However, similar to the other three pieces of legislation, the effective date of the copyright law will be announced at a later stage, and applications for voluntary recordation of copyright are not yet being accepted while the administrative structures necessary to do so are still being established.

“We recommend that rights owners audit their current portfolio of works, and consider filing for recordation of their copyright once the new law is in force, as such registration documents may form prima facie proof of ownership of these works, which are important when seeking to enforce or to commercialize their copyright,” they write.

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