What are the potential legal issues to consider when filming a documentary in the UAE?

24 June 2014

Saarah Badr

Media lawyer Saarah Badr, discusses the key legal issues around filming a documentary in the UAE.

Q: What are the potential legal issues I should consider when filming a documentary in the UAE?

A: I spent considerable time advising film producers on the issues to think about when making a documentary in the UAE. Here are the highlights (although, of course, this is no substitute for obtaining specific legal advice)….

Filming approvals: To film in the UAE, the production company will need to obtain a filming permit. The permit will state the locations where filming is permitted. If you are going to be filming in a private location, for example inside a residential property, you should obtain written permission from the property owner.

A filming permit is also required if you are going to be including aerial filming in the documentary and subject to the location, you may also need other approvals, for example from the Ministry of Interior.

In Dubai, filming permits are issued by the Dubai Film and TV Commission who will coordinate all approvals required for filming in your selected location(s) in the Emirate. In Abu Dhabi and other Emirates, the Media Zone Authority (through twofour54 tawasol) can coordinate applications for filming permits.

Make sure that you plan ahead – it can take 3-4 weeks for the permit to be issued!

Script clearance: The National Media Council (NMC) is the UAE Federal government department that approves all scripts, treatments, storyboards and synopsises in advance of any filming taking place in the UAE. All scene shots and locations must be included in the script (this will be required as part of your filming permit application). The script should be in "final form" before being submitted, as revisions require further approval.

The NMC will review the script to ensure that it is compliant with local laws and regulations regarding content, particularly in relation to cultural, social and religion sensitivities. Potential issues can be discussed with your legal advisor prior to submission of the script to NMC to prevent delays in approval.

The relevant authority that deals with the filming permit applications in each Emirate will also be able to coordinate script approval with the NMC. Again, script approval can take up to three weeks so it is important to plan ahead!

Privacy and contributors: The UAE places a high degree of protection on individuals' rights to privacy and family life. You must be careful not to include individuals in your documentary or details about their private life without their informed consent.

To obtain informed consent from a contributor to your documentary, you will need to provide them with sufficient information about the contribution they will be making such as the subject matter, nature, format and target audience of the documentary.

You should always obtain consent in writing from all individuals who have been filmed as part of the documentary. Be particularly careful with under 18s; informed consent should be obtained from their parents or guardians. Your legal advisor will be able to provide you with a standard form of consent.

Accuracy and fairness: You should avoid unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in your documentary. Content that refers to real people, organisation or events must be thoroughly checked and researched.

The facts and details in your documentary must be accurate or the content could be considered to be unfair. You must also ensure that you distinguish fact from opinion. There are other legal issues that relate to accuracy and fairness, such as ensuring you do not defame any individuals/organisations, which you should discuss with your legal advisor.

Copyright clearances: To use a copyright work in your documentary, for example a piece of background music, you will need to obtain consent from the copyright owner for that specific use (this may well be a licence to use the copyright work for which you will be charged a licence fee).

If you use the work without permission of the copyright owner it is likely you will have infringed the owner's copyright, for which there are high penalties in the UAE. Relevant copyright clearance for your documentary can be discussed with your legal advisor to ensure that you have obtained the required permissions.

Article was featured on page 16 in Digital Studio magazine, which focuses on TV and film production in the Middle East.