Malawi parliament passes new copyright bill

Malawi's parliament on Thursday 14 July finally approved a new copyright bill for the country. 

Malawian musicians gather at the country's parliament after the passing of the new law. Photo: Edwin Mauluka
Malawian musicians gather at the country's parliament after the passing of the new law. Photo: Edwin Mauluka

First drafted five year ago, the bill seeks to curb the unauthorised use of music that results in substantial revenue losses for the local music industry. Since then, however, the bill has been gathering dust on government shelves while musicians have been making losses through the unlawful use of their works.

For many years, Malawian artists and music industry roleplayers have been pushing for the bill to be presented in parliament and passed into law. In December 2015, increasingly agitated artists threatened to take action against the government if the bill was not tabled when parliament opened in 2016.

By delaying signing the bill into law, piracy has become a huge problem in the country. It is understood that the Copyright Act, passed in 1989, does not take into account the many changes in technology since then that affect the copyright landscape. This has resulted in the exploitation of artists in the country, who often receive very little income from sales made from their work, even if their music is heard playing everywhere.

The recent decision by parliamentarians to approve this bill will surely come as a relief to local musicians, who were following proceedings in parliament closely and reportedly broke into song - a gospel track titled 'It Is Well' - immediately after the announcement.

While presenting the new bill in parliament, Sports and Culture Minister Grace Chiumia noted that culprits found guilty of copyright infringement will be forced to pay hefty fines, adding that this will help to protect Malawian artists and enable them to earn something from their work.

The bill covers all aspects of creative works - literary, dramatic and musical, as well as expressions of folklore developed and maintained in Malawi. It also covers live performances, audiovisual work, broadcasts and typographical arrangements of works published in the country.

It provides a framework for the increased promotion and development of Malawi’s culture through the provision of incentives such as a cultural fund to promote arts development and levies on blank recording media (such as CDRs).

It also aims to increase and enforce fines and penalties for copyright infringement. The protection of creators’ rights against the illegal use of works in the digital environment will also be broadened. The income base for authors will be widened through expanded licensing areas - including ringtones, downloads and internet broadcasting, which can lead to increased revenue for the creators.

After years of delay in tabling the bill for discussion in parliament, if signed into law by the country's president Peter Mutharika, the bill will benefit artists by better protecting their works. Although implementation may remain a challenge and will require the cooperation of numerous organisations, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

For more information about the new bill, read here.


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