By Wallace Mawire
Member countries of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) have met in Harare, Zimbabwe at a two day symposium on copyright and related rights on 12 to 14 June, 2018 to find common ground on combating piracy and shaping copyright and related rights systems on the continent.
The symposium was held under the theme: “Shaping the Copyright and Related Rights System in Africa.”
The Symposium discussed critical copyright issues affecting Africa and explored ways to address copyright in the digital environment for the benefit of the right holders, users, and other stakeholders.
It was attended by at least 65 delegates from 30 countries including experts on Intellectual Property from international organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) .
Also an Exhibition by the 19 ARIPO member states showcased what is happening in their countries on copyright and related rights.
Officially opening the symposium, Zimbabwe’s Deputy Attorney General, Mr Kumbirai Hodzi a similar symposium was held in 2017 under the same theme and the 2018 symposium sought to take stock on progress that had been made on copyright and related rights systems in Africa.
Mr Hodzi said that intellectual property played a very critical role in the protection and dissemination of knowledge and creative industries have assumed major economic significance that contribute significantly to economies.
He also added that the music industry had potential to contribute meaningfully to African economies buts its protection was lax and piracy was very rampant in most of the countries.
“Although some countries have laws prohibiting infringement, copyright infringement is the order of the day,” Hodzi said.
He cited the example of Zimbabwe, where recently one of the country’s musicians, Alick Macheso released a new album that was launched on 8 June, 2018.
Hodzi said that what was concerning was that before the launch of the album, copies of the musician’s music were already awash in the streets of Harare.
“People do not seem to think twice about sharing the music, yet to Alick Macheso, these are bread and butter issues and he needs to survive, pay his bills and his band together with its management,” Hodzi said.
Hodzi lamented how the same scenario has become the order of the day especially in Africa.
He urged African member states to measure progress on copyright and related rights issues and any change of attitudes following their meetings. He added that the issues of copyright and related rights in Africa need a concerted effort from everyone to include copyright offices, collective management organisations, academics, entrepreneurs and the victims themselves who include artists, among other players.
Hodzi urged member states of the ARIPO to study how developed countries had done it to be successful in protecting copyright and related rights.
“Computer software, multi-media products, music, books and other literary works have made the players rich, created employment and contributed meaningfully to the economies of those countries,” Hodzi said.
According to Hodzi, in 2011, a research was undertaken by Dick Kawooya and others and they published a book on Access to knowledge in Africa: The role of copyright. He said that the research revealed that in all the eight countries were the study was undertaken, all countries had copyright laws that meet and in many cases exceed the minimum international standards reflected in applicable international instruments and agreements.
He also added that findings also revealed that no country studied takes advantage of all, or even most of, the flexibilities that exist in relevant international agreements.
The study is also reported to have highlighted a disconnect between national copyright laws and on the ground practices in all the countries studied. It found that laws and policies governing copyright in most African countries are typically not grounded in the realities of African societies and are largely crafted without sufficient empirical evidence.
“Unfortunately, these findings might be true to this day. It is well known that the copyright environments in our countries is not conducive and currently it doesn’t maximise access and protection of knowledge. But l believe we are capable of changing our situations in order to improve both access and protection of our copyrights,” Hodzi said.