Stronger enforcement needed to protect African creatives
Nearly three decades after the adoption of an international treaty to protect the rights of creatives, East African lawyers met to discuss the challenges facing the advancement of the agreement in their various countries, reports Alfred Olufemi.
Earlier this week the East Africa Law Society (EALS) hosted a capacity building session to discuss the status of the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT). Legal experts from across East Africa spoke about the prospects and challenges of the 27-year-old international agreement aimed at protecting creatives in the region.
The treaty, a 1996 agreement signed by the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), addresses the rights of performers such as actors and singers, and producers of phonograms.
Moderating the panel session, Catherine Kairuki Mulika, a partner at TripleOKlaw LLP, noted that the panellists presented the challenges in the present day environment, but also pointed out the emerging issues and solutions.
One of the panellists, June Gachiu, a Kenya-based singer and intellectual property and copyright law expert, explained that the 1996 treaty was an improvement on previous treaties like the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations of 1961.
She explained that, among other allowances, the WPPT gives performers the right to object to any mutilation or modification of their work that they believe could be prejudicial to their reputation.
Gachiu added that, in the past, many performers in Kenya were not properly credited for their works. "Those performers probably got a token, performed and left. This treaty recognises their contribution and says you do have the moral rights to be identified as the performer who did this in this particular phonogram," she said.
Gachiu lamented the fact that Kenya, like many other countries, signed the treaty but has yet to ratify it. She also highlighted the importance of the member-states agreeing on who should go after violators – those violated or the government.
"We have the debate on whether the enforcement should be a mandate of the state or should be at the purview of the rights owners themselves. There should be an enforcement provision made available," she suggested.
Voicing a similar concern, Dr Anthony Kakooza, partner at Byenkya, Kihika & Co Advocates, said even though Uganda has domesticated the WPPT, cross-border enforcement is difficult because many countries have not ratified the treaty.
He noted that there are some grey areas that need to be clarified, citing instances where researchers are made to pay for works "even though they are not using them for commercial interest or infringing on producers’ rights".
Pius Ntazinda Nkunda, Managing Partner at CM Advocates, said that the Rwandan government is currently reviewing its intellectual property framework to include some of the provisions of the WPPT.
The panellists were unanimous in emphasising the need for more awareness programmes, as many performers and producers are ignorant of the legal provisions protecting them.
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