There are a number of myths about copyright protection in Saudi Arabia, such as “it is not possible for non-Saudi nationals / foreign companies to benefit from copyright protection”. This is not the case.
The Kingdom is party to the Berne Convention which sets out basic principles including “national treatment” and the “automatic” protection of copyright works.
However, in order to be able to successfully enforce copyright in the Kingdom, it is important to be able to show a chain of ownership of copyright from the individual that created the work to the owner (ie in the form of an assignment agreement which complies with the Royal Decree No. M/41 (the Saudi Copyright Law)).
As a general rule, copyright vests automatically in the author of a work on creation, until copyright is assigned in accordance with the provisions of the Saudi Copyright Law. There are exceptions for joint and collective works, ie works created by a group of people. It is important to note that the moral rights will remain with the author.
It is often (incorrectly) assumed that copyright will automatically be owned by one party because it commissioned the relevant works to be created (ie software, designs or other deliverables). However, unlike the position in the US (which has the ‘works for hire’ concept), copyright in commissioned works will be retained by the author under the Saudi Copyright Law.
Accordingly, in the absence of IP provisions in commissioning agreements, the contractor will usually retain copyright in the deliverables and the commissioner may have no right to use, copy or amend the works in the Kingdom.
Another issue worth highlighting is that the Saudi Copyright Law does not contain a provision which states that copyright in works created by employees during the course of their employment will be automatically owned by their employers. As a result, companies with R&D departments or key works being created within the Kingdom (such as oil and gas companies or content producers) should ensure that assignments agreements are signed by the individuals that create the works to ensure that copyright is effectively transferred to the companies (and not retained by individual consultants or employees).
In order for an assignment of copyright to be valid under the provision of the Saudi Copyright Law, it must be in writing and it must specify the place and duration of the assignment.
Taking steps to put in place a valid chain of ownership will ensure that companies are able to use, exploit and enforce copyright in key works in the Kingdom.