Copyright has been hard to ignore in Africa in recent weeks. It was one of the dominant themes on the agenda of the recent seminar organized in Kenya by the International Publishers Association (IPA), Africa Rising: Realizing Africa’s Potential as a Global Publishing Leader in the 21st Century. Copyright featured in a fireside chat with Sylvie Forbin, Deputy Director General (Copyright and Creative Industries) of WIPO; copyright was the theme of a special workshop on the second day; copyright was referenced time and time again on and off stage as a key concern of African publishers.
Focus on Piracy Prevention
Piracy, especially of educational materials such as textbooks, is a serious problem in many parts of the continent. At the IPA seminar, one African publisher after another spoke of the need for urgent and coordinated action to control the spread of illegal copying. Delegates also shared real concern about legislative developments in specific African countries that widened exceptions to copyright to an extent that was interpreted to be very hostile to the interests of creators and publishers. Many publishers at the event pointed specifically to recent events in South Africa and the enactment of new copyright legislation which many publishers fear will lead to significant reductions in their revenues from the regional educational market.
WIPO Copyright Events
Copyright was also front and center of an important event in Nairobi organized by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) the day before the IPA event: a regional seminar for African libraries, archives, museums, and educational and research institutions in the field of copyright. This was the second in a series of three WIPO events (the first was held in Singapore in April and the final one will be in the Dominican Republic in July) looking at whether further copyright exceptions and limitations are needed going forward. Many local stakeholders, including publishers and reproduction rights organizations (RROs), were present to make the case for no new exceptions and limitations, supported by trade organizations such as the IPA and International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO).
No one attending these events could fail to be impressed by African publishers: their entrepreneurial energy, their willingness to experiment with new formats and business models, their determination to protect indigenous languages and cultures at risk, and their determination to be a channel to the rest of the world for the continent’s scholars, poets, and storytellers. They were celebrated and inspired at the beginning of the seminar by the world-renowned Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who talked movingly about how authors and publishers can work together to change the world. Peter Tabichi, a Franciscan friar, peace activist and winner of the Global Teacher Prize in 2019, praised the role of publishers in education, pointing to the transformations they make possible in small rural schools in Kenya.
It was especially impressive to see so many African RROs contributing to both events, showcasing the work they do to protect the interests of publishers and authors and the success they are starting to enjoy with copyright education and licensing programs to academic institutions in their countries. I was lucky enough to reconnect with old friends from the RROs in Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa and to hear first-hand about the progress they’re making in very challenging conditions. These are the pioneers and the inspiration for those countries in Africa in which copyright licensing isn’t yet a reality.
The IPA’s Nairobi event was the second in what seems to be a growing trend of events focused on copyright in Africa. The first, held in Nigeria in 2018, led to the launch of the Lagos Action Plan, a set of specific commitments designed to promote collective accountability and action for progress in the African publishing community and supported by stakeholders in 39 countries. One of these commitments is to “making Africa’s copyright framework fit for the digital era,” so it’s certain that we’ll be hearing more about copyright in Africa going forward. At the close of the Kenya event, the IPA’s President, Hugo Setzer, announced that the 2020 seminar would be held in Marrakech. Nairobi will be a tough act to follow.