Saturday, 2 August 2014

Ugandan business persons and the need to respect copyright interests of the local Entertainment Industry.

After a lengthy sabbatical away from Afro-IP pursuing a Doctorate degree in Intellectual Property and Internet Law in the U.S, this Leo returned a few days ago to Uganda. The first welcoming news on the TV screens was a report of the Ugandan Police firing shots in the air in Downtown Kampala as they dispersed a crowd that was wrestling with Copyright Enforcement Officers. The Law Enforcement officers were in the process of arresting an Asian “businessman” that had been in the business of trading in illegally reproduced DVDs. A large crowd gathered and was trying to fight off the police, under the assumption that the arrest was baseless.

It was interesting to see the “businessman” (there go those quotation marks again) clasp onto the iron bars near his store as he resisted arrest. The camera went on to show thousands of DVDs on display in his store featuring Ugandan movies popularly known as Ugawood movies.

As a Country, we probably still have a long way to go in preaching the bad about copyright infringement in the Ugandan circles. It is, however, quite encouraging to see that the Ugandan Copyright Enforcement Police Division is getting a grip of what it means to protect the copyright interests of our emerging Entertainment Industry.

Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood have been generating Billions of Dollars for the entertainment industries in the U.S, India and Nigeria respectively. This mainly leans on the fact that the enforcement of the law as well as market support against copyright infringements largely favors these industries (this is not to say that there are no copyright infringements of movies in any of these countries). Ultimately, not only the industry players, but the countries – as a whole – have benefitted economically and socially.

In Uganda, the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act of 2006 provides for civil remedies and criminal sanctions against those engaged in the acts of Copyright infringement (see Sections 45, 46 and 47 of the Act). Nonetheless, the Enforcement Police have constantly engaged in battles with those caught in the act of infringing or in possession of infringing products. What makes this interesting is not because the suspects are caught red-handed and try to flee from arrest, but the fact that they always try to resist arrest on the false believe that the arrest is not justified.

Is it the case then that dissemination of the law is still wanting – eight years after enactment, with a countless number of publications, seminars, media programs and so on, that have been passed out to various stakeholders – inclusive of the likes of the Asian “businessman”?

Or is it the case that we should continue fronting the age-old argument that as a Least Developed Country, we can’t afford original DVDs and the best way of appealing to the masses is by dealing in affordable duplicate DVDs? 

What most people do not realize is that we have gone beyond disrespecting foreign works of copyright and are now also killing our own local entertainment industry before it even has the chance to grow effectively. The more we encourage illegal reproduction of Ugawood DVDs, the less profits will accrue to the Entertainment Industry. Ultimately, their incentive for further innovation as well as the financial capital to support more movie productions, will be eroded.

It is therefore only consistency from the Enforcement Police that will eventually crack the illegal practice of DVD copyright infringement in Uganda. More search and arrest operations are necessary to drive the point home that the law is here to stay and what may seem right as a business practice for the common man downtown is not necessarily what is right legally and morally.

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