Intellectual Property Versus My One Dinar Movies

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.


  • I think the JOD 1 Movies is not the big deal! People now use peer-to-peer technologies to download the latest movies, I do myself! I used to get movies from downtown’s street of DVD shops, now you can find the latest movies online, a month or more before they are released on downtown! I may have watched the same movies I downloaded on cinema; I just like to keep a copy for future use :D, I may also want to watch a movie that didn’t get released in Jordan. I’m not a savvy in intellectual laws, I don’t even know if we have any. But there should be a law protecting local producers’ rights, I guess foreign producers don’t care that much, especially Jordan is not that huge market.

    I wonder, do you have the right to use Mahjoob’s caricatures in your blog? Do you have the right? (No offense just wondering)

  • I do think that IPRs play a significant role in advanced industrial societies where high-tech, high value-added goods are produced. In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, the costs of developing a drug from basic research to government approval are astronomical, and if all parties involved (universities, government labs, and companies) are not certain of where the benefit will accrue (i.e. who will hold the patent, how profits will be distributed), there is less incentive for them (a) to cooperate during the R&D process; and (b) invest in these ventures. Furthermore, if there is no guarantee that companies will be able to re-coop the costs of developing a drug (i.e. if generics are allowed to enter early on), there is little incentive to develop the drug. This is all old news.

    I agree with you that it is probably not intellectual property laws keeping American investors out of Jordan. What I have described above has no apparent relationship to FDI in a developing country such as Jordan. First of all, I don’t think investors are looking at Jordan for high-value added goods. They are looking at it from the point of outsourcing, in which case regional stability, labor costs, and a streamlined bureaucracy will reign supreme. It is particularly the last two items with which Jordan has a significant problem. Despite what appear to be falling standards of living in the Kingdom, Jordanian wages are simply too high to compete with countries like Egypt. Hotbeds of foreign investment, like QIZs and ASEZA, employ a majority of foreign labor.

  • while i don’t really mind them enforcing the IP laws on media and music, doesn’t mean that i support such a thing but honestly i think the recording industry is a broken system and its already failing and the artists thing the same way. I could care less for Hollywood movies also since they don’t tickle my fancy

    the connection between foreign investment (US) and the enforcement of IP policies is a strawman argument you only need to look at southeast asia and the level of investment to piracy and bootlegging (we are talking much more than just dvd’s there)

    What really worries me are two things, that we are adopting the american style of IP which instead of fostering and protecting innovation has loop holes (think swiss cheese) that allows corporations to maintain a monopoly for a way too long of a period (depends on the registration of the ip usually from 5-50yrs of the top of my head) plus it allows the registration of an IP under vague terms and without practical requirements of marketability (detremental in the field of Softwares and IT)
    the other thing is that the only long established and healthy industry that we could call an industry in jordan is our pharmaceutical industry and the two selling points that they had over the competition is that they have both good quality and price
    now after joining the WTO they have been cracking down on them (Especially the americans) to enforce them to pay royalties on medicine that really should be free from royalties by now
    so the 2nd tier medicine (the one after the cutting edge) is increasing in price due to that.
    plus that is going to be reflected on the consumer, even though there are clauses in the WTO regulations that allows poor countries to disregard those IP laws on certain medicines to produce it for local consumption (india & brazil are taking advantage of those) the industry is not capatilizing on that and instead is getting suffocated as far as i can see
    and thats the biggest effect IP had on the country as far as i can tell

  • By the way, the DVD vendors in Balad speak almost perfect English (at least the ones that I go to), they don’t pronounce the names of the films incorrectly as the caricature suggests.

    As for bootleggers and counterfeiters. Look, it’s really tricky. I support IP laws to protect local (and Arabic) talents, all books, art work and photography. But why should I make Paramount or Sony any richer? I’d rather stick my cash to an independent film, or a foreign film (be it Arabic; European or South American). Why should I support a music industry that thrives on greed? Plus, why don’t these studios take a stand, and try to accommodate our needs? Why don’t they ship DVDs to the Middle East and other third-world countries at cheaper prices than in Europe or America? Oh I forgot, that’s because they couldn’t care less. So, I guess that makes two of us then!

    I know that we might be damaging local businesses like DVD rental shops or Prime Megastore; but there has to be some give and take. But I wouldn’t worry really, every place has its customers. I certainly wouldn’t worry about designer clothes either.

    Anyway, if you want to think it from a purely economical point of view. One of the first ten rules in economics is that the consumer is rational. I guess the rational choice is to pay less money, therefore to go for counterfeits.

  • Wow Pheras, your hypocrisy stinks to high heaven! Allah Ya3rif!

    I mean, you will consume the product of the greedy Americans but not pay for it?

    A man of true character would not consume the product if he did not want to pay for it. Maybe the greed you need to worry about is in your heart.

  • Hmmm, see that’s where you’re wrong. I didn’t say “greedy Americans”, I gave examples of American-based companies, but there’s a difference between saying greedy American companies, and greedy Americans.

    Yeah, I don’t want to fork out JD20 for a DVD and let some company that cashes in the millions already get all the cash. I’d rather hand the money over to some shop in Downtown. Clearly, many people suggested the same thing, yet you only chose to pick a fight with me (scroll above for visual aid).

    Anyway, you said it yourself: Allah Ya3rif, so I wouldn’t be throwing around hasty judgments. Plus, only God can judge me.

  • I think you’ve raised a very important issue about others not wanting to invest in Jordan. I think for the movies and software industry the Jordanian market is not worth it considering the purchasing power and the population.

    So why they are keeping away? The most important issue here is Law and order! Another issue is dealing with the good old bureaucracy plaguing most governmental inst., not to mention that many of them don’t know where their responsibilities start or end, and they don’t speak English. I got something held up for 2 months by you know who, not because it was so outrageous, simply because the guy in charge didn’t know what it is (add to that it was Ramadan), and he lost the 20 something attached request form, and he kept quite hoping no one will ask about it :D! Things like the Abu Ghazaleh fiasco, Petra bank, the Shamayleh gate, scare investors away.

    Nice Cartoon interpretation,

    Ok, implement IP laws, but lower prices! It’s ridiculous to pay the American price tag of a DVD with a Jordanian income! Anyhow, Jordanians got more issues to worry about, like how they’ll be paying the winter’s Diesel, just how freeing the oil market will effect them. Scary!


  • “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?”

    well I’m sure it would have some kind of effect but I think the other factor you mentioned, “safety and stability”, is waayyyy more significant in drawing foreign investors and affecting their decisions.

    “intellectual theft” (if that’s what you call pirated movies and music) as well as fake designer imitations is something not unique to Jordan nor is it unique to the whole world. It’s quite universal. In the US for every one authentic designer handbag you’ll find like 10 fake ones being carried. Not just handbags, but all kinds of accessories and clothes. It’s almost like a trend now to own a fake and they sell them everywhere-university campuses, mall kiosks, shopping center booths, etc. So my point is I wouldn’t necessarily directly correlate such “intellectual theft” with economic development, it’s a universal thing.

    Now with regards to your 1JD movies, I don’t get it! Hal blogged about this before but I personally just can’t watch a movie that requires you to be at least halfway-attentive if it’s pirated, I must seriously be getting the wrong brand of pirated.

  • “Kulu al-3rab saboon.”

    I generally purchase all my movies from the States, either when I visit or I have someone mail them to me. I don’t mind paying $10 for the real deal (as opposed to JD20 here). Not everyone has this option, however, so the pirated copies of movies and software will continue until the prices drop to the affordable range.

  • Exactly Dave. Through Netflix you can pay for a certain subscription and that’s it. However in Amman, you need to pay JD100 for 5 DVDs, that really is a lot of money. You would save JD95 by buying 5 DVDs from DT.

    I’m sure if we had a service like Netflix, many people would opt for it than DT. It’s far more convenient to get your movies by mail, and to even have the option of keeping the film by paying a little extra cash.

  • Just as long as they leave my 1JD movies alone.

    lol that was the thought on my head all the way through the post!

    Now let’s face it: The average Jordanian can’t afford to see all movies in the cinema, can’t afford to buy original DVDs for 18 JDs each, let alone that many movies don’t even reach our cinemas… so what do we do? we want to watch those movies too.

    Besides, if Microsoft knows that their software is being pirated and sold for 1/2 JD (Seriously, you can get wondows Vista premium for 1/2 JD) and they are okay with it. Why? because the market in Jordan isn’t that huge. So how much less shoudl WB care? Bearing in mind that if it was only about original CD’s, the sales will drop to less than 5% of the current sales (in my humble opinion)

  • Dave, oh my god are you trying to say there’s a postal service in jordan? one that services internationally????? No way, I don’t believe you!

  • We must simply come to terms with the fact that the entire IPR landscape needs to be redefined to accommodate present day life and how people want to consume audiovisual media.

    Movies are made to be seen. End of story! If distributors are lethargic, if governments insist on censorship, and if screening outlets don’t exist for all demographics, then how else can one watch a movie if not thru a cheap pirated copy?

    The entire IPR landscape needs to be rethought!

    Specifically with respect to the availability of the JD1 DVD, here’s my take:

Your Two Piasters: