Protests by legislators and ministers over the so-called theft of Indonesian culture have highlighted just how little the government knows about intellectual property. Should we be concerned? Yes. There are serious implications for the country’s economic future.
The new Film Law led to a wave of criticism. Much of it focused on government interference in the industry through censorship and new licensing requirements. An issue that did not receive much, if any, attention is the way the Film Law undermines copyright principles.
The law gives the Ministry of Culture and Tourism the responsibility of ensuring that no two film scripts are alike. Before issuing a film license, the minister must make sure that the script is not similar to any already approved.
While this might seem like a good idea, the similarity of film scripts is a copyright issue. Film scripts fall into the category of “artistic works” that are protected by the Copyright Law. One of the basic principles of copyright is that you don’t need to register your artistic work to get copyright protection. Artistic works, such as film scripts, are automatically protected from the date they are created.
The Film Law changes this by protecting scripts according to when they are sent to the minister for approval. Did the law’s drafters intend to create a special set of copyright rules for the film industry? Not likely. More probably they did not realize that this is a copyright issue.
State-owned recording company Lokananta also doesn’t seem to understand how copyright works. In August, Lokananta threatened to take Malaysia to the International Court of Justice over the song “Terang Bulan.” According to Lokananta, Malaysia’s national anthem infringes on Indonesian intellectual property rights because it is 80 percent similar to “Terang Bulan,” which Lokananta recorded in 1956. Malaysia adopted “Negaraku” as its national anthem in 1957.
Let’s leave aside the question of why Lokananta waited 52 years to complain about this. The problem is that Lokananta does not own the rights to the song. The song is said to date back to 19th century France and was popular in both Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1920s and 1930s, long before President Sukarno ordered Lokananta to record it.
With songs, there is often more than one copyright owner. Different people can own separate copyrights to the lyrics, the musical arrangement and the recording. Lokananta didn’t write the song - that much is clear. At best, it is the owner of the copyright to the recording made in 1956 - which would have expired in 2006.
These misunderstandings at the governmental level reflect a general indifference in the broader business community to intellectual property issues.
Over the past decade, the number of new trademark filings at the Directorate General of Intellectual Property Rights has grown at only 4 percent a year. New patent filings have also remained static, with no real increase in the number of new patent applications filed at the Patent Office since 2001. Compare this with China, which has seen annual growth of 25 percent in new patent filings year-on-year. Of equal concern is that nearly half of all trademark and patent filings are by foreign companies.
Intellectual property cases only make up a very small fraction of civil and criminal cases handled by the courts. The Commercial Court handles fewer than 50 such cases a year, with most being trademark disputes. There are remarkably few criminal cases handled by the district courts. This is surprising given the extent of copyright infringement that exists in the nation’s malls.
It’s not surprising that our ministers and legislators have little understanding or concern about intellectual property when it is such a low priority for the wider community.
Should we be worried? Yes. Even a basic understanding of intellectual property can provide you with a significant advantage. International surveys regularly show that nearly two-thirds of a company’s assets are related to intellectual property. Yet very few businesses even understand how trademarks work. There cannot be real economic growth in Indonesia until we change how we think about intellectual property.Brett McGuire is a consultant for Rouse, a global intellectual property consultancy.