Generally speaking, there has been minimal nationwide popularization of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (CNRA) that was spearheaded by Uganda Performing Right Society between 2007 and 2010 funded by Unesco through the Uganda National Commission for Unesco.
Coupled with this, is the general lack of awareness of the copyright-based industry’s value chain. The effect of the foregoing is that copyright and neighbouring rights’ owners make uninformed decisions affecting their rights, in most cases losing them to third parties.
For instance, many writers have lost revenue to publishers hence being discouraged from writing. Those that have persevered choose the path of self- publishing to bypass publishers. Similarly, in the music industry, most rights’ owners do not know which rights they own, how and why!
Some performers end up claiming copyright in the songs they sing whereas the author of those songs should have been the copyright owner, and the performer (the ones who sing the songs) own neighbouring rights. Sadly, producers of the sound recordings of those songs are usually left out in the value chain altogether!
These omissions (and many others) cause some people to believe that there is no copyright law in Uganda, while others claim the law is very weak. Whereas there is justification for amending the law, in my view it should not be considered an end in itself.
The amended law will have almost similar effect if there is no adequate popularization. Copyright protected content users must know, as of necessity, why they must take out a license to use the content. The license fee should not be looked at as nor equated to a tax. It’s a price for the commodity called “copyrighted work”.
It must be appreciated just like we all appreciate to pay for data if we want to use the internet without any coercion. But also, rights’ holders must be sensitised about their rights and the entire value chain to enable all those persons who participate in the creation of a copyright-protected work to benefit pro rata from their creations.
There is a new trend nowadays of forming this and that association to bring together like-minded persons. This is very good, but not the solution per se. These associations, among others, should educate their members about who is who in the sector. What is important is for creatives to know who owns what in a copyright-protected work created.
Another phenomenon that has adversely affected the copyright-based industry is the lack of informed distribution and commercialisation channels. Producing content is one thing while distributing it and commercialising it is another.
In the present scenario, many copyright protected works’ creators actually do the distribution and commercialisation of their works, albeit haphazardly - unprofessionally. In music, for example, almost each musician has their own channels (which is good) where they distribute and “commercialise” their music.
Question is, do they do it the professional way? Do they really earn what they ought to from their works?
Whereas we should all support the CNRA amendment process, we should do so from the point of view that it is our works at stake, in the first place. We should push for amendments that shall strengthen our control over and ownership of the rights in the works we create, create revenue channels, and simplify revenue collections.
It is not very wise, for example, to put contractual issues (like share percentages of revenues from our works) in the law. We should not entrust government to collect our revenues from certain users.
If we did, changing the sharing percentages for any economic reasons shall require amendment of the law, which we all know is not a cup of coffee process. Secondly, if for any reason government refused to remit the money collected on our behalf, where shall we run to?
The author is an intellectual property rights activist/specialist