Freedom of Religions Freedom of Speech

Editorial

‘Point Blank’, a Pakistani TV news show, recently aired an interview with Mr. Ameer-ul-Azeem of the Jama’at Islami1 who claimed that by identifying themselves as Muslims, members of the Ahmadiyya Community were infringing upon the intellectual property rights of other Muslims. He stated that just as companies like Coca-Cola have trademarks on their products, so too do mainstream Muslims have ownership rights on all Islamic symbols.

‘Intellectual Property’ (IP) refers to creations of the human mind and IP laws are man-made laws designed to ‘protect the interests of creators by giving them property rights over their creations.’2 From this we can deduce that IP laws do not govern religious symbols, icons, scrip-tures etc. as these are believed to be creations of the divine, not human. Mr. Azeem argues that mainstream Muslims hold the copyright to the Kalimah (the Muslim Creed), the Qur’an and to other Islamic identifiers. Does he then also believe that these are man-made inventions, rather than divine creations?

Ahmadis do not believe in, or practise, a man-made religion. They follow the religion of God. Mr. Azeem can rest assured that his IP rights are not being violated, as Ahmadis do not recognise him as the author of their religion. His remarks are empty slogans to beguile those swayed by such high-sounding concepts.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO),3 IP laws are designed to:

1. Give statutory rights to creators to benefit economically from their creations.

2. Promote creativity and dissemination and to encourage fair trade.4

Does Mr. Azeem seek to use Islam as a means of economic gain? He and his cohorts believe that they have a patent on the religion, implying that like Coca-Cola, Islam is a human invention, not a divine one. They further seek to benefit from it economically rather than spiritually. In arguing IP protection, they reduce religion to a human invention subject to trade and commerce.

There are two broad categories of IP:

1. Ideas and inventions:
These are covered by patent and trademark laws. Pharmaceutical drugs fall under this category as does the Coca-Cola logo.

2. Forms of expression:
i.e. the manner chosen to express an idea. These are covered by copyright laws. Literary works, essays, musi-cal compositions all fall under this category.

The question for Mr. Azeem is which of the above categories does Islam, the Muslim creed or the Qur’an fall under? According to Ahmadis, Islam, the Muslim Ummah or the Qur’an are certainly not the result of any human endeavour and therefore are not protected by IP laws. Is the Qur’an (God forbid) a literary work penned by a human being? Is Islam a human invention or trademark? If Mr. Azeem believes that IP law protects his religion then he must also believe that his religion is a man-made one. He could argue that, at some point in time, God assigned Islamic IP rights over to him and his associates. After all, authors and inventors do license their rights to publishers and commercial entities so that their works may be protected and widely disseminated. If that is his argument then the burden of proof falls on him. When and where did God license the patent on Islam or the copyright to the Kalimah?

No copyright or patent law confers rights to the author or inventor indefinitely. A time limit is always set on the copyright/patent. A patented plant is protected for 20 years; a design patent only lasts for 14 years after which it is available to the public. A copyright lasts the life of its author plus 70 years after the author’s death. A registered trademark is protected for 10 years but can be renewed. It would be interesting to know for how long Mr. Azeem believes that his copyright/patent over the Qur’an and Islam should exist.

In invoking IP rights to protect his brand of Islam Mr. Azeem commits two grave injustices. First, he ascribes ownership and authorship of the religion to humans rather than to God. In other words he expropriates God’s rights and takes credit for the religion that is Islam. Second, he uses his ill-gotten ‘rights’ to deprive God’s creatures of their fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

So who is degrading Islam? Ahmadis who believe in the divine authorship of the Qur’an or Mr. Azeem who seems to consider it a human creation?

References:

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dtv27XpBKIE&feature=related,
    visited September 27, 2009.
  2. Understanding Copyright and Related Rights, World Intellectual Property Organization,
    http://www.wipo.int/freepublications/en/intproperty/909/wipo_pub_909.html
  3. WIPO is a specialised agency of the United Nations. Its mission is to protect the rights of creators and IP owners world-wide.
  4. Understanding Copyright and Related Rights, World Intellectual Property Organization.