Friday, 2 August 2013

Uganda addresses its Traditional Cultural Expressions: Conference report

This post may be late in reaching its readership (apologies offered), but hopefully, it should still be able to raise a few new ideas to the readership in the area of protecting Folklore. South Africa continues to grapple over which Bill on Folklore will reach the finishing line first, while Kenya is also sharpening its intellectual minds in addressing the same subject through a proposed Bill on the protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions. Uganda, meanwhile, is slowly beginning to lift its head out of the sand.

On June 28th 2013, at the Africana Hotel in Kampala, various stakeholders with an interest in the development of Intellectual Property law in Uganda, particularly with a focus on the relationship with Traditional Cultural Expressions, got together to debate on a range of issues on the subject of Folklore. The theme of the Conference was “Our Culture, Our Future: Perspectives on Economic Development through Uganda’s Traditional Cultural Expressions”. The Conference, which was hosted by the Faculty of Law, Uganda Christian University, was funded by the Intellectual Property and Technology Law program at the University of Illinois (at Urbana-Champaign) College of Law, U.S.A.

The opening remarks came from Professor Agasha Mugasha, the Chairman of the Uganda Law Reform Commission. He highlighted the absence of regulation in Uganda to help define the respective interests of all players involved in the use of Folklore and how this has paved way for a social imbalance, with copyright holders gaining an unfair advantage over ethnic communities from whom they generate ideas for the looming entertainment business in the country’s movie and music sectors.

Professor Jay Kesan, the Director of the Intellectual Property and Technology Law Program at the University of Illinois, then followed up with a spirited presentation on “Some Fundamentals and Global Perspectives on Traditional Knowledge and Folklore”. He pointed out the need to appreciate the old vis-à-vis new thinking in which there is an economic development agenda that is “indigenous, supportive of native creations and innovations, and which embraces I.P”. His conclusive remarks offered guidance on encouraging indigenous innovation; creative content; embracing existing I.P regimes and creating new I.P regimes – where appropriate; as well as publicizing innovations and creative content.

Other interesting presentations came from Professor Mwambusya Ndebesa, a History Professor from Makerere University, who is famous for having challenged President Museveni’s right to copyright protection over an adaptation of an Ankole folklore before the Copyright registrar (I posted a blog on this previously ). Professor Ndebesa’s presentation was on “An Analysis of the challenges in the protection of our Folklore in contemporary Uganda.’ This was followed shortly by a presentation from Ms. Mercy Kyomugasho Kainobwisho, the Director of the Intellectual Property Department at the Uganda Registration Services Bureau. Her paper was titled “Administration of Folklore in Uganda: Reality of fiction? - A Registrar’s perspective.” She acknowledged the difficulty in administering Folklore due to the absence of a clear system and highlighted the benefits that would accrue from a well-organized and regulated system.

Another presentation that spurred debate came from Mr. Charles Batambuze, the Executive Secretary of the National Book Trust of Uganda. His presentation titled “Open licensing as an avenue in the use of Ugandan Folklore: Analyzing the pros and cons”, raised interesting ideas on how the right to attribution under Traditional Cultural Expressions can be handled in an I.P biased regime. This was followed up by Ms. Georgina Mugerwa from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives. Her paper, titled “Exploitation of the Music Industry in Uganda: Economic and Fiscal Considerations”, amongst other points, highlighted the fact that the value of Uganda’s exportation of cultural goods over the past five years, has been in the range of $20m (Ug. Shs 50bn). She further pointed out that sadly, the music sector, which is affiliated to the cultural sector, still remains under-researched with insufficient data on its economic performance. Her paper also addressed the challenges hindering effective economic monitoring and gave recommendations on the way forward.

Ms. Jeroline Akubu, a Principal Legal Officer at the Uganda Law Reform Commission, then gave a presentation on the “Enforcement of Folklore in Uganda: Addressing the legal challenges”. She addressed the hustle at various national levels between the use of existing intellectual property laws and the use of sui generis systems as well as the attempts to address protection challenges locally in Uganda. Her conclusive assessment was on the need for a sui generis legislation.

Three stakeholders representing the consumer base, marketing agents and Collective Management Organizations respectively, constituted the panelists that steered the debates over the presentations. Mr. Steven Rwangyezi, the founder and Managing Director of Uganda’s famous Ndere Troupe – one of the leading Cultural  entertainers in the Country, wrapped up the discussions of the day with his insights on the topic “Waking the sleeping giant: An analysis of the economic potential in Uganda’s traditional music”. His general contention was that creativity and cultural growth should not be stifled down by regulation. Nonetheless, regulation is necessary to a certain level so as to create an orderly system.

On the whole, the conference successfully highlighted the participants’ consensus on regulating Traditional Cultural Expressions with a view of tapping into and fostering economic development of the Country without necessarily destroying the natural evolution of Culture itself. 

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