Intellectual property: it may be one of the most unsexy topics in economics, but the strange market that is Jordan always makes even the most boring of topics, quite interesting. In these past 5 years, two entwining phenomena have arisen. The first being Jordan’s discovery that in order to enhance an investor environment as well as produce a local ideas economy, intellectual property is a necessity. And so a campaign began to form, where the government went after IP violators, with threats, fines, jail time and shop closures. As this was happening the second phenomena gave way: broadband Internet. This of course enabled people to download movies, software, video games and music albums, and sell them at a very cheap price, nearly anywhere you can imagine.
Now law enforcement has been pretty lax when it comes to this sudden industry of 1JD movies. In the balad (downtown area), there are whole shops that store literally thousands of movies, games and what not. In the past year, one road has become home to roughly 10 of these shops all within spitting distance of one another. At times, one of these shops will suddenly close down for a week or so while its owner does some jail time. But then it opens back up.
I often wondered why law enforcement hasn’t closed these shops properly. I’m assuming that Sony and Warner Brothers studios all the way in Hollywood, are not all that interested in the on goings of Amman’s balad. And I’m also assuming that perhaps law enforcement is concerned more with the bigger fish in the sea. Truth be told, cheap copies of movies and games are merely a drop of water in an endless sea when it comes to intellectual property.
In Jordan, designers can copy and produce the designs of fellow designers. Be it in the form of a poster, a logo an advertisement or even tangible manufactured products such as jewelry, medicine, and textiles. The infringement on the latter goods produces yet another industrial problem: knock offs. The flooding of the market with (literally) cheaper alternatives.
This is to say nothing of stunting the growth of an ideas economy, where innovation can reign supreme and unharmed by the fear of someone, anyone, stealing another’s’ idea.
My boss, an economist in his own right, believes that this may be the reason for low American investment in the country as opposed to their European counterparts. While the Europeans will often come to Jordan in person, willing to invest, the Americans will first send their lawyers. The farther you are from your investment and your market, the more you need to ensure there are laws that safeguard your investment.
Now I personally disagree with some of these general points.
I am not defending the status quo, but I’m also trying to put it into context.
Because naturally I’m forced to ask myself these questions:
Would having strict IP laws and enforcement of those laws really produce an ideas economy in Jordan? Would it really increase American, or any other type of, investment in the country?
I think the answers to the question may be a diluted “yes”, simply because while I see IP laws as a necessity in the investment arena, they are not the whole ballgame. A foreign investor is probably thinking about the safety and stability of Jordan in its regional context before all else. And while innovation does exist on the local front, I’m not sure if it will flourish when protected by IP laws.
Moreover, and possibly more importantly, are these reasons enough to offset the costs of implementing such laws?
In other words, if I don’t have 5JDs to go to the cinema, or rent a DVD. If I don’t have 100JDs to buy a real dress shirt. I don’t have the money to buy the gold necklace that’s sold for three times as much at the shop whose designer originally designed it. If most of us are making relatively low wages, how is it possible to afford so many of the things we often consume given the current economic status? IP laws would only wash out the copies consumed by the many, and leave only the expensive originals for the few.
Most Jordanians would prefer the cheaper variety of anything, even if it comes at the cost of quality. It’s as the old Arab adage goes: “to the Arab, it’s all soap (all the same)”.
Speaking for myself, I really don’t have a lifestyle that would all that much be altered by the existence or implementation of such laws.
Just as long as they leave my 1JD movies alone.