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Communication Law and the Guidelines for Business – Basically

Communication Law and the Guidelines for Business – Basically

Zawya

31 December 2014

By: Ludmila Yamalova, Managing Partner, HPL Yamalova & Plewka DMCC

All businesses and individuals conducting business in the U.A.E. must understand the legal framework of the U.A.E. media and communication laws.  The country’s laws and practices are based heavily on its historical, religious, political and cultural background.  As a Muslim and historically conservative country, the U.A.E.’s legal system zealously guards and protects principles of honour, privacy, morals, religion and reputation.  Any communications that may be perceived to be offensive or false can be considered defamatory and, therefore, illegal.  And truth is not a defense.  Similarly, any statements against the state or its leaders, or information that can be perceived to jeopardize the country’s security or stability, is generally forbidden and vigilantly monitored.

Repercussions for violating any of these laws and principles can be severe.  Companies accused of such violations face financial sanctions, suspension and, in the worst of cases, cancellation of trade licenses.  Individuals accused of such crimes face, in additional to financial fines, imprisonment and ultimately deportation for life.

Generally, these principles apply not only to private businesses and citizens, but also to media and communication companies based in the U.A.E. or doing business in the U.A.E.

The applicable laws that govern communication and media aspects of the U.A.E. community are multi-faceted and continuously evolving.  They include, among other things, the most recent U.A.E. Law No. 5 of 2012 (Cyber Law), as well U.A.E. Law No. 64 of 2006 (Consumer Protection Law), U.A.E. Law No. 15 of 1980 (Media Law), U.A.E. Law No. 18 of 1993 (Consumer Transaction Law), U.A.E. Law No. 37 of 1992 (Trademark Protection Law) and Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (Penal Code).

Under these laws, some of the general guidelines as to what constitutes illegal communications are as follows.  Defamatory or slanderous communications or statements are considered illegal and criminal in nature, carrying severe penalties.  Commercial statements that are false and/or misleading in nature, in the form of false advertising, are also illegal and can carry civil and criminal liabilities.  If the abusive statements are published in any newspaper or printed media, the offense is considered to be an aggravated case, subject to even more severe penalties.

Defamatory or Slanderous Communications

First of all, one must not communicate any information that may violate UAE’s standards of morality and proper conduct.  It is illegal to disseminate anything that threatens the UAE’s public morals, principles of Islam or the state.  It is equally illegal to disseminate pictures that contain irreverence to Islam or other religions.  All public communications, including social media, must show respect to the UAE’s leaders, its government and its institutions.  All communications that may belittle or criticize the UAE’s cultural and social customs are also forbidden.   It is also illegal to communicate any threats of violence or engage in hate speech, including content containing graphic or gratuitous violence.

In general, there should be no posting of potentially inflammatory content.  Similarly, unauthorized communication of people’s private information, such as addresses, telephone numbers, or national identity numbers or images or videos that are considered private under the UAE law could be held illegal.  It is also illegal to impersonate users in a manner that is misleading or is intended to be misleading.

These violations are generally governed by the U.A.E. Penal Code, which has been in existence since 1987.  As such, the U.A.E. court precedents adjudicating such cases are numerous and supportive of the principles outline above.

False Advertising

Companies must also be aware that false advertising is illegal under the U.A.E. law, although it is not yet as strictly enforced.  This applies in particular to traders and service providers.  The relevant laws that apply to false advertising are the U.A.E. Commercial Transaction Law, Consumer Protection law and Trademark Law.

Thus, the Commercial Transaction Law prohibits traders from disclosing matters inconsistent with reality.   Traders therefore may not make false statements when engaging in commercial activities such as advertising for profit, broadcasting television or recordings, or advertising activities when practiced as a profession.  Injured parties are entitled to damages in default for fraud or misrepresentation when marketing, spreading, or publishing false information.   They may also seek additional damages or remedies provided by other laws.  Victims could also seek to recover damages from any person engaged in the business of supplying information to commercial houses, who knowingly or through gross negligence supplies untrue statements.

Similarly, the U.A.E. Consumer Protection Law regulates price manipulation and promotes free market economics/pricing.  The law enables each Emirate to monitor price increases, protect against monopolies, and stop the display or promotion of counterfeited commodities that would inflict damage or loss on consumers.  A supplier may not disclose matters inconsistent with the reality regarding the origin, description, or other matters pertaining to a good or service’s nature or importance.   Additionally, a Supplier may not resort to any misleading means with the intent thereby to deceive customers.

The Trademark Protection Law covers traditional (ex. registered company logos) and non-traditional trademarks (ex. trade dress, sound marks, etc.) and addresses trademark registration, transfers, and penalties for infringement.   Violation of the Trademark Protection Law carries monetary fines and imprisonment.  Additionally, the Trademark Protection Law provides injured parties the ability to seek preliminary injunction, destruction of goods, or damages from those who violate the law.  These fines and prison sentences increase for repeat offenders.

Cyber Law

The most recent U.A.E. Cyber Law, published in 2012, has further solidified the country’s position on offensive communication especially in light of the digital age.  In general, the law outlines more specifically communications that are considered illegal and imposes significant financial penalties for their violations.

Thus, the law imposes punishment for anyone for using any information technology means for violating privacy of others by eavesdropping, intercepting, recording or disclosing conversations, communications, audio and video material.  Similarly, it makes it illegal to take photographs of others, create electronic photos of others, disclose, copy or save them or publish news, electronic photographs or photographs or scenes, comments, data and information, even if they are authentic.

The Cyber Law also prescribes punishments for anyone who creates or runs an electronic site to raise donations, without authorization from the competent authorities.  The new law also imposes penalties of imprisonment and/or fines on any owner or administrator of an electronic website or any information technology means or devices for storing or intentionally providing illegal content, despite knowledge of the illegal nature of the content.  Similarly, failure to remove or prevent access to this illegal content can result in equal liability.

Under the Cyber Law, authorities are allowed to seize devices, software, programs and any other means used in committing any of these crimes, as well as the permanent or temporary closure of the involved property or site.  The law also provides for the deportation of any foreigner convicted of any of these crimes upon the completion of the carrying out of any punishment.

Conclusion

Companies must be careful and vigilant in how they communicate with the public.  This includes information on their website, marketing materials, social media or any other publicly available information.  The same principles apply to both general communications about the company and those about the company’s products and services.  Importantly, actions and communications of the company’s employees can also be imputed to the company.  Furthermore, forwarding and sharing communications of others that contain any such messages are equally illegal.