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Rising challenge of content piracy in Uganda's entertainment landscape

Ugandan producer shooting a movie scene

Ugandan producer shooting a movie scene

For years, pay television has been the dominant force in Uganda's entertainment scene, serving as the primary source of information and leisure.

Over this period, Pay TV has offered users unparalleled access to a wide range of content by delivering convenience, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness compared to traditional media formats.

Essentially, subscribing to pay TV has long been synonymous with accessing a vast universe of entertainment options at our fingertips. However, recent developments suggest a shift in this paradigm. The emergence of alternatives and the diversification of content provision has led to more access to content, notably through various platforms such as streaming services.

This shift has to a certain extent democratised access to content that was previously in many aspects exclusive to Pay TV service providers, especially due to the cost of acquisition or rights purchase to the content. However, it has also heightened the risk of piracy and unauthorized reproduction of this content.

According to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), the Ugandan government loses up to Shs 60 billion annually due to piracy and copyright violations. Content piracy is the unauthorized acquisition, use, sharing or selling of copyrighted content. Put simply, piracy is stealing.

Piracy isn't exclusive to Uganda or the Pay TV landscape only, it persists as a global multisectoral challenge. The battle against it rages on, even in markets that employ advanced technology to combat it in Europe, the Americas, Asia among other markets.

In 2023, in the United Kingdom, authorities cracked down on hesgoal.com, a popular platform used for illegally streaming football matches, including the English Premier League. These actions prompted stern warnings from British officials, urging citizens to refrain from engaging in piracy due to the risks it poses.

These risks include data theft and malware, which, according to a report in The Mirror, can potentially lead to funding organized criminal groups. According to a recent Bloomberg report, digital piracy and illegal streaming services have cost the US economy approximately $30 billion annually in lost revenue, resulting in the loss of as many as 250,000 jobs.

Despite extensive efforts by content providers to block these illegal sites, unsuspecting Ugandans have persisted in using them to access illegal content, even at the risk of exposing themselves to malicious software and malware that puts their data at risk from hackers, and compromises their security.

A recurring theme on these sites is pornographic advertising through pop-ups that share inappropriate content, posing a risk to children who use their devices unsupervised to download content from these sites. The risks that piracy poses to the entire entertainment value chain in Uganda are another reason why this vice needs to be nipped in the bud.

In a burgeoning market like Uganda's, where considerable effort is poured into creating content, piracy affects heavily copyrighted sectors such as film, music, and publishing significantly. Artists risk earning less than what they are due for their investment in their works.

Angela Katatumba’s 2011 lawsuit proves that copyright laws in the country are effective when cases are pursued to the very end. In 2011, she was awarded Shs 25 million in damages from an organization that unlawfully used her song in an advertisement jingle. This was a significant win for content creators in Uganda, but very few have taken similar steps since.

Filmmakers, content creators, writers, poets, comedians, instrumentalists, vocalists, art designers among others are under similar threat to their creative works by individuals and organizations that find all possible means to avoid paying for these works.

That notwithstanding, it is important to note that while others earn from driving, or leading teams or customer service jobs or being in the army, creators earn from their works and therefore, everyone who employs these diverse ways of accessing content for free are detrimental to the well being of creators at all levels.

One must understand that this is how these creators are able to afford to feed their families, pay their medical bills, raise tuition for their children to go to school, and employ workers on their sets to deliver the final product.

A study of the Copyright Amendment Bill 2022 has recently sparked life into conversations around a fair deal for players in the entertainment space. The bill also promises penalties and sanctions for the infringement of copyright works which is a move in the right direction and many creators are hopeful it give them an opportunity to regain their livelihood.

That said, broadcast and cyber piracy remain widespread in Uganda even when efforts to combat the vice have continually intensified. Practices like password sharing are now not acceptable for most streaming platforms, directly putting money in the creator’s pockets.

There has equally been a crackdown on illegal streaming devices by the authorities and by internet service providers for websites, which has pushed more Ugandans to start consuming content through the right channels, creating a trickle-down effect for owners of content on the local scene to earn a decent living.

In conclusion, a much-needed cultural reset needs to take over, with the support of sustained sensitization drives in an environment where some users do not even know that content piracy is a crime, is punishable by law and importantly exposes individuals to loss of data including monetary loss where financial information and identity have been compromised through these streaming sites whose address or ownership is unknown.

The writer is the PR and communications manager at MultiChoice Uganda

 

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