A 3-day symposium in Harare jointly organised by the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), has reinforced the need for countries to facilitate the growth of efficient and equitable IP systems for national development. Baffour Ankomah reports for the New African.

The centrality of intellectual property (IP) rights to modern life is not often appreciated, but without the protection given to holders of patents, copyrights, trademarks, and other IP rights, human life as known today would not be possible. Like any other property rights, IP rights make it possible for owners of inventions, literary and artistic works, and trademarks to be protected and benefit from their works or investments, thus giving them more energy and financial incentive to continue to research, invent, and produce more for the betterment of all humankind.

According to Prof Erik S. Reinert, the Norwegian economic historian, although “many of the mechanisms of wealth and poverty were identified and described in ancient Greece, the logical starting point seemed to be the late 1400s, the time of the invention of patents in Venice [in Italy] and the birth of modern industrial policy with the ascension of Henry VII to the throne of England in 1485.”

Since then, “the progress and well-being of humanity has rested on its capacity for new creations in the areas of technology and culture”, says the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), one of the 17 specialised agencies of the United Nations, and because “the legal protection of these new creations encourages the expenditure of additional resources, which leads to further innovation, the promotion of IP rights has spurred economic growth, created new jobs and industries, and has enhanced the quality and enjoyment of life.”

Throughout the world, an efficient and equitable IP system is a powerful tool for economic development and social and cultural wellbeing as it rewards creativity and human endeavour by providing an environment for creativity and invention to flourish, to the benefit of national economies and individuals alike.

Thus, for the man in the street who may not have made any inventions or creations at all, the benefit of IP rights can be summed up in three ways, according to WIPO:

(a) The multi-billion dollar film, recording, publishing, and software industries, which bring pleasure to millions of people in all parts of the world, would not exist without copyright protection.

(b) Consumers would have no means to confidently buy products or services without reliable, international trademark protection and enforcement to discourage counterfeiting and piracy.

(c) Without the rewards provided by the patent system, researchers and inventors would have little incentive to continue producing better and more efficient products for consumers worldwide.

Thus, efficient IP systems have become even more critical today, as “the world has shifted to the knowledge economy of which IP is the main driving force,” says the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO).

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Worldwide, the economic contribution of creative industries account for more than 7% of global GDP. In Africa, according to ARIPO, creative and cultural industries (CCIs) are worth over $58 billion, and employing 2.4 million people. In Kenya, for example, CCIs contribute 5.3% of GDP, and in Malawi at one point in the recent past CCIs contributed more than mining and quarry.

It is against this background that, between 5-7 June 2017, ARIPO, in collaboration with WIPO, held a symposium at its headquarters in Harare on copyright and related rights for officials of national copyright offices (COs) and creators’ associations (called collective management organisations, CMOs) to facilitate the understanding and appreciation of the economic contribution of copyright to national economies and their impact on policy formulation.

In general, “copyright is an automatic legal right granted to a creator of an original expression of his idea in a tangible form”. Therefore, “copyright is a form of property, which, like physical property, can be bought or sold, inherited, licensed or otherwise transferred, wholly or in part,” according to ARIPO. “Some or all of the rights may subsequently belong to someone other than the first owner and may be shared jointly.”

Seen from this standpoint, the copyright system supports creativity, contributes to cultural diversity, enhances social values, promotes investment, creates jobs, encourages trade, and contributes to national economies – and countries ignore its development at their peril, according to one participant.

At the Harare symposium, participants came from 17 of ARIPO’s 19 member-states and were treated to vigorous presentations and discussions on the need for COs and CMOs to take their role in the copyright architecture seriously, a role that enjoins them to promote efficient administration and management of the affairs of their members, particularly in the areas of transparency, good governance and accountability.

CMOs are private organisations formed by creators such as musicians, artists, authors, etc, to manage their affairs in terms of royalty collection and distribution, and also to protect their collective IP rights. Therefore, CMOs serve as a bridge between their members and the users of their members’ creations (such as TV and radio stations), as well as implementing the IP legislation enacted by COs to govern the sector.

Therefore, the role of CMOs is critical to the wellbeing of individual creators and the IP system in general. This is why ARIPO wants CMOs to raise their game because without them the IP system will be hobbled. Thus, bringing the CMOs and COs together at the Harare symposium and treating them to three days of intensive tutoring and mentoring was ARIPO’s way of encouraging and enhancing their efficiencies in the interests of their members and the IP system as a whole.

Also in attendance at the symposium were sister international organisations, including the Organisation Africaine de la Propriete Intellectuelle (OAPI), the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), the Norwegian Copyright Development Association (NORCODE), the Public Lending Right International Network, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), and GRH Consultancy Ltd.

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Permanent Secretary of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs Virginia Mabhiza

Held under the theme, Shaping the Copyright and Related Rights System in Africa, the symposium was officially opened by the Permanent Secretary of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs Virginia Mabhiza, who has been a good friend and staunch supporter of ARIPO and the IP system in Zimbabwe. ARIPO’s Director General, Fernando dos Santos, and WIPO’s Deputy Director General, Sylvie Forbin, also addressed the opening ceremony which was moderated by Emmanuel Sackey, ARIPO’s intellectual property executive.

ARIPO Director General Dos Santos in an interview during the Symposium recently held in Harare

In his speech, Director General Dos Santos said over the last few years ARIPO had developed concrete strategies for IP policy development and coordination in member states, and highlighted the need for African governments to ratify the international instruments on copyright, while setting up relevant institutional frameworks at home to implement the legislation arising from the international instruments.

Dos Santos urged the continent to contribute meaningfully to the agenda on copyright and related rights, and assured member states of ARIPO’s continued support for the IP sector.

Sylvie Forbin

On her part, Sylvie Forbin covered a number of key issues in her speech, chief among whom was the need for WIPO and ARIPO member countries to not underestimate the value of copyright and related rights, and therefore should work together to promote the development of creative industries because they contribute significantly to national economies.

Over the three days of the symposium, discussions were held on a variety of topics, spread under the following six broad themes:

(a) The economic importance of copyright and the creative industries for African countries.
(b) The legal framework for copyright.
(c) Essential components in the administration of copyright at the national level. (d) Using copyright to create an enabling environment.
(e) The content industry in the digital environment.
(f) The way forward.

Interestingly, it was at the “way forward” stage that participants made the most telling contributions to the development of a draft Comprehensive Agenda for Copyright and Related Rights in Africa whose goal is to secure a level playing field for African IP rights holders in the global copyright ecosystem, while balancing the interest of all stakeholders.

From now till 2019, according to the draft agenda, ARIPO and WIPO (which was created in 1967 by the United Nations to encourage creative activity and promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world) will support member states’ efforts to ratify, domesticate, and implement the international IP treaties now in force. Member states, on the other hand, will update existing copyright laws and enact new ones to govern the cultural, ICT, consumer, and financial sectors.

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Also in the next two years, WIPO (in close collaboration with ARIPO and other strategic partners) will develop a global mapping of CMOs to serve as a basis for support by WIPO and ARIPO, especially in technical and managerial matters, as a way of equipping CMOs with capacity and knowhow to embrace new opportunities in the digital age.

The CMOs also resolved to upgrade their operational systems between now and 2019 and embrace inclusiveness and accountability as a way of modernising their business processes and the quality of service they render to their members.

According to figures released by Maureen Fondo, head of copyright and related rights at ARIPO, some CMOs do not pass on to their members enough of the royalties they collect on behalf of members. Rather, the bulk of the royalties is either consumed by the CMO’s administrative costs or held back for future expenditure, depriving musicians, artists, and other IP rights holders of their legitimate earnings.

Another major concern raised at the symposium was the unwillingness of the users of creative works (such as TV and radio stations) to pay the required royalties on time or at all, to the point where in Kenya one CMO agent goes about with an AK-47 rifle to “encourage” users to pay the royalties due to the members of that particular CMO.

When the photograph of the gun-totting CMO agent was put on the widescreen at the symposium, showing him going about his “normal” duties in Nairobi with his AK-47 rifle in his right hand, it drew both shock and laughter among the symposium participants. Apparently, it is serious business collecting royalties in Kenya.

Concern was also raised over the fact that in Africa CCIs work in the informal sector, and as such governments do not take CCIs seriously. WIPO and ARIPO were called upon to help change this perception.

On the last day of the symposium, WIPO’s Deputy Director, Sylvie Forbin, announced a new WIPO initiative to use public-private-partnerships (PPPs), linked to existing global publishers, donors and UN agencies, to help member countries to set up publishing and printing houses to produce textbooks and other educational material. The project is intended to address the crucial issue of access to quality education for all, and foster the emergence of new players in the educational publishing industry.

WIPO is thus asking member states to be actively involved in the design and implementation phases of the project, by providing information on the educational publishing industries in their countries.

Overall, it was a useful three days of learning, debate, encouragement, peer-review, and networking for the CMOs and COs. ARIPO, WIPO and the participants were thus pleased with the outcome.