Movies have long been a great way to entertain and educate. But unless one is viewing them privately, a legal authorisation is required to avoid copyright infringement.
Many organisations, facilities and companies regularly and unknowingly expose themselves to copyright infringement when they play audiovisual programmes, whether movies, television programmes, or any entertainment video, for seemingly innocent purposes.
In Malawi, the law requires that any viewing or exhibition of a film or video in a public space must have a public performance licence or authorisation from the copyright holder.
The Malawi Copyright Act of 2016 empowers the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) to penalise those who fail to abide by the law.
States Section 113 (1) of the Act: “Any person who infringes any copyright commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to a fine of K5 000 000 and to imprisonment for two years and in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine of K25 000 for each day during which the offence continues.”
However, many are times when various local television stations infringe copyright laws by playing movies without a license or authorisation from the copyright holder.
This is because it is costly to get licences for international movies which some of them are still showing in cinemas in the United States (US).
The case in point is a counterfeit movie, The Inferno, which some local filmmakers observe that government-owned Malawi Digital Broadcasting Network Limited (MDBNL) is showing at its platform with Chinese subtitles.
M-Theatre Cinema proprietor Sunduzwayo Jere says it is unfair competition when television stations show these pirated movies without paying a penny while cinemas spend a lot of money paying royalties to movie houses.
“But there is nothing we can do because it is an issue to do with the enforcement of the law,” he says.
The ‘public performance licence’ fee is usually paid to the distributor who owns the rights to the movie.
However, some cinema houses prefer an umbrella licence that grants orgnisations permission to show legally obtained audiovisual programmes. This is handled by various cinema companies such as the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) or Epic Open Air Cinema.
These represent producers and distributors from Hollywood studios to independent and foreign producers.
Usually, cinemas rent a movie at a flat fee if the movie is to be shown to viewers free of charge.
However, if organisers decide to charge gate admission, then the structure changes slightly, as the required fee could be the greater of the flat fee or 35 to 70 percent (depending on film chosen) of the total gross revenue from the gate admissions, states MPLC website.
Jere says Cosoma needs to level the playing field if cinemas are to reap benefits from the trade which needs “huge investments”.
“We spend a lot of money to rent these movies, but others have the luxury to show them without spending a penny.
“This needs to be addressed if cinema is to grow in the country where most of the operators have abandoned the industry,” he says.
Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) communications manager Clara Mwafulirwa said this is an issue of self-regulation.
“All broadcasters know that they have to respect Copy Rights. Licences also stipulate that any contractual agreements that broadcasters go into shall be communicated to Macra.
“Secondly, it has to be noted that the Communication Act and the Copyright Act are two different Acts and they have different enforcement powers. While Macra regulates broadcasting, enforcement of Copy Rights rests with Cosoma,” she said.
Cosoma senior licensing officer Rosario Kamanga said his organisation needs to investigate independently to find out if the broadcasters showing pirated movies have “proper systems in place that preserve the integrity of the institutions by ensuring that pirated products do not find their way on the screens”.
He, however, said it is the responsibility of broadcasters to put in place policies that ensure that only legitimate copies get aired.
“It’s against that background that Cosoma has not prioritised the policing of broadcasters on use of pirated products. Our focus has been the open market. We have facilitated the creation of arts production and marketing cooperative which is addressing the production and supply side of artistic products since in part piracy is caused by shortage of legitimate products on the market,” he said.
MDBNL director of marketing John Mchilikizo said all movies at its channel are subject to scrutiny by Cosoma.
“For foreign materials, we buy in recognised shops where they sell original copies. For local producers, we let them bring original copies,” said Mchilikizo.