For a long time, artists, musicians in particular, have accused the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) of inefficiency in the fight against piracy. Some have even branded the society as corrupt on the way it administers issues of royalties to artists, arguing some musicians still remain in the dark on the way royalties are distributed. Arts reporter HOWARD MLOZI talks to Dora Makwinja, copyright administrator and executive director of Cosoma:
Q: How can you rate copyright issues in Malawi?
A: Well, I would say that copyright in this country is still considered as a new concept, perhaps something foreign which we have simply adopted from somewhere. But then this should not be the case because we have lived with copyright since time immemorial. We had situations where we have composed and played indigenous songs and dances in the village.
Of course, we also had folktales, dramas and the like. So, this is something that we have had and lived with for a long time. But what really lacked was a legal framework and the law only came into being in 1989. That was the first Copyright Act, which we are still implementating and administering until today.
But I would say in terms of knowledge, there is little that is known about copyright issues in Malawi. This is the case even with the original creators, authors and users of different works, I mean everyone in the creative industries still have problems to understand copyright issues. For the users, they do not understand why they should pay or seek permission before using a particular work.
Q: Cosoma once said even law enforcers do not understand issues of copyright; hence, the rampant cases of piracy. How true is this?
A: Oh yes! The police and customs people do not understand or tend to take copyright issues lightly. If you check today, Section 51 of the Copyright Act gives the power to police officers to inspect copyright places or infringement, but most of them do not know this. The only time the law enforcers take action is when Cosoma hires them for a particular raid or creator has asked them to help in pouncing some illegal sale of their works.
Yet this is part of their job to enforce laws which they need not to be reminded or hired by Cosoma to effect an operation. Even the general public do not appreciate issues of the copyright so we have a long way to go in order to sensitize them. We want Malawi who will embrace the concept of Copyright and take full responsibility over it without being told.
Q: So, as Cosoma what are you doing about these challenges?
A: Basically, what we have been doing are sensitisation programme. For example, last year we had support from the government of Korea which enabled us to travel around the country’s major cities to sensitise the media, creators and users of copyright works about the issues of infringement. This year, we will also benefit from the support and intend to train judiciary officials on copyright issues.
Q: The copyright infringement or piracy is rampant partly because of porous laws. Why is the copyright bill dragging?
A: I think the process of enacting a law is a lengthy one. The processes of consulting relevant authorities, drafting and analysing it, which began around 2005 are lengthy. But the good news is that we have sent the bill to the Cabinet through our mother ministry. If passed, the bill stands to benefit creators in a number of areas such as protection of their works. For example, the Bill has enhanced the maximum penalty to perpetrators of copyright infringement from around K15 000 to K700 000.
Q: What are the major challenges facing Cosoma today?
A: Number one: The issue of piracy. However, this is problem is a world phenomenon which is affecting many countries. Secondly, we do not have proper music distribution system, but the good news is that we have what we call integrated arts development programme which seeks to face-lift the arts industries. For example, we have a component of marketing and production which is aimed at coming up with legitimate music market, among others. Another component is a saving and credit cooperative called Arts Sacco which seeks to promote saving culture and access to credit among artists.
Q: What is the status of Cosoma’s revenue collection?
A: In terms of revenue collection, we have managed to move from around K40 million to K80 million which has been distributed in royalties to artists. The figure has increased because we have also ventured into other areas to license such as reprography. n