Piracy in Zimbabwe: Can there be a lasting solution?

Piracy has been awash in Zimbabwe, with relevant authorities being accused of turning a blind eye. Very few arrests have been made in this regard over the years, with the arrested getting away with a measly fine. As a result, authors, musicians and other originators of intellectual property are crying foul as they are cheated out of their income by the unscrupulous practice.

A vendor sells pirated music to motorists on the streets of Harare. Photo: The Herald
A vendor sells pirated music to motorists on the streets of Harare. Photo: The Herald

According to Maureen Fondo, Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organisation’s (ARIPO) Copyright Officer piracy is the, “Unauthorised use, un-authorised reproduction, and unauthorised distribution of copyright works for commercial purposes without the consent of the copyright owner”.

Prominent sculptor, Dominic Benhura, says copyright owners are often discouraged into taking seeking justice because, “a lot of money is spent to pay lawyers and time spent as well only for the offender to pay a $50 fine.”

“It is so frustrating,” says Benhura. “No wonder musicians too are now reluctant to spend hours and time recording. I think it’s a lack of appreciation of the massive job chain the arts industry is contributing.”

The celebrated Zimbabwean sculptor, who has been a victim of piracy through sculptor pieces that are sold under his prestigious names to fetch more money suggests that a harsher sentence may stop piracy.

“As a way forward, custodial sentence will stop it right away. As a result there are isolated cattle rustling incidences now. Yet maybe artistic work has more value than livestock the world over” he says.

Paradoxically, it is the same piracy of intellectual property, which many believe has sky-rocketed access to textbooks for pupils. A situation which has seen Zimbabwe progress to the 1:1 ratio of book availability in schools.

Such a development is a major milestone as sharing textbooks is becoming a thing of the past in most primary, secondary and tertiary institutions but it will be an injustice to turn a blind eye on the unconventional means that have led to the attainment of such a milestone as a nation.

In textbook piracy schools have greatly contributed towards the rise of illegal photocopying of textbooks by not taking a stance in the matter and sometimes by photocopying the textbooks themselves. Parents and students have had their fair share of this illegal deed and in some cases accomplices who are ignorant of the true impact of their deeds.

The above mentioned co-conspirators are ignorant of their impact because they all view the issue in a personal view oblivious that their collective efforts cheats the author and other stakeholders involved in the production and distribution of the books out of their income.

A five-minute walk in any central business district of a Zimbabwean town or city will affirm this trend as vendors sell illegally photocopied text books in almost every street corner.

While at individual level artists and other creators of intellectual property feel the pinch of ‘robbed’ income, Law Society of Zimbabwe president Vimbai Nyemba, who is also a senior partner at V Nyemba and Associates however, says there has not been major cases of intellectual theft noted in the country.

“There has been virtually no Zimbabwean recorded cases on piracy and copyright infringement of note in the last decade due in part to the high cost of litigation which most copyright owners (who tend to be small-time artists) cannot afford as it has been due to lack of knowledge on how to mobilise their rights effectively,” Nyemba says.

But the law is clear, insists Fondo.

“The Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, Chapter 26:05 provides under section nine the nature and vesting of copyright and works eligible for copyright protection under section 10 that copyright subsists in a work eligible for copyright if they are original such as literary works, musical works, artistic works, audio-visual works, sound recordings, broadcasts etc. This means the copyright owner has the exclusive legal right to prohibit or to authorise the use of his/her work” Fondo elaborates.

As the paradox continues, however, the same piracy which has wreaked havoc for authors is believed to have breathed life into the Zimdancehall genre that flourished in the early 2000s. Most Zimdancehall artists have not been shy to credit their rise to fame to piracy hence they glorify it instead of despise it.

Zimdancehall chanters often rely on piracy to grow their fan base and they earn their living from live performances at shows, through royalties from the airplay and the famous ones sometimes get endorsements too.

In textbook pirating critics reckon if the relevant ministry took a stance against such piracy, it will be reduced significantly. Other critics have been of the view that to curb piracy creative should ensure their products match the prices pegged by pirates. This is a tried and tested formula following Sungura maestro, Macheso’s recent historical success story.

The singer sold over 100 000 CDs of his latest album “Tsoka Dzerwendo” one dollar each which is the same price the pirates would sell his music.

Author Elias Machemedze spoke on publishing and how they stand to benefit as authors if they make the books affordable and sell volumes, “The first run usually covers all the costs just that publishers can be greedy at times and as authors it is imperative that we have an organisation that represents the interests of authors too” he said

Zimbabwe copyright laws have been deemed archaic by some parties and stakeholders share the view of the urgent need for new copyright laws.

“The laws should be home grown not borrowed from international organisations. That is why the problem is getting worse although countless workshops time and money has been put in. I think it’s because intellectuals put together what they get from books and Internet, instead of Artists themselves presenting to the book gurus how they feel the problem can be addressed once and for all. The intellectuals should then edit and make it easy for the offenders and offended to understand clearly” bemoans Benhura.

ARIPO and LSZ share the view that Zimbabwe needs to upgrade their copyright laws in line with technological advancements.

“The world has evolved into a global village that is technology driven in the main. The form and concept of copyright has been influenced by technology to a point where any form of Copyright legislation which does not take into account global aspects of intellectual property law, like our Copyright Act at present; runs the risk of being ineffectual,” Nyemba says.

Fondo agrees. “Yes. This will be good as said earlier to ratify the international treaties on copyright and related rights and domesticate them in the national laws and also to go a step further by creating awareness of the proposed amendments and how the copyright owners and the public can benefit out of it. For example the Internet Treaties and the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are visually impaired or otherwise print disabled.”

Author Rabson Shumba says, “piracy will end when there is a collective effort and meeting of minds between local authorities (city councils) and ministry of home affairs arresting offenders. The ministry of education enforcing copyright laws in education institutes. The ministry of justice must uphold and update the law and concurrently vendors’ associations must be engaged”.


Originally published in 263chat.com and republished in The Herald on 18 July 2016.


Video: Thomas Mapfumo protests music piracy in Zimbabwe.

 

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