Policy & GovernanceArt & DesignTechnologyIntellectual Property / Copyright law – The key to Unlock the Full Potential of Africa’s Creative Industry.

Joyce ObuyaFebruary 4, 202358516 min

Intellectual property rights are the rights granted to individuals over their mental creations. For a set period of time, they usually grant the creator exclusive rights to use his or her creation. Copyright safeguards the rights of authors and publishers of literature and creative works (such as books and other publications, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, computer programs, and films) for at least 50 years after their death.

Also protected through copyright and related (sometimes referred to as “neighboring”) rights are the rights of performers (e.g. actors, singers and musicians), producers of phonograms (sound recordings) and broadcasting organizations. The main social purpose of protection of copyright and related rights is to encourage and reward creative work.

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

Despite the effects of COVID-19, Africa’s young creative industries remain ripe for investment opportunities. African music, film, and fashion continue to gain global popularity, with companies like Netflix and Universal Music Group expanding their presence on the continent.

According to the African Report , In 2016, Nigeria’s film business, known as Nollywood, generated $7.2 billion, or 1.42 percent of the country’s GDP, and South Africa’s music industry was expected to generate $178 million in income by 2020. Despite this, entertainment firms received just 1.1 percent of overall African start-up funding in 2019, or $22 million. With the basic financial and digital infrastructure to support the creative industries increasingly in place, and Africans staying at home owing to the epidemic, now is the opportunity for investors to double down on Africa’s creative industries to stimulate economic recovery.

Just how bad is copyright infringement in Africa?

As much more funding for creative industries in Africa is yearned for, there still exists fundamental and damaging issues constraining the investment curve of the African creative businesses.  One of these is the lack of stringent copyright and intellectual laws in Africa.

In an interview with DW, Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango stated that anyone who wants to purchase music in an African city like Accra or Lagos can just head to the street market. Often, young men with laptops can be found sitting between green grocers and vendors selling household products.

Courtesy of: https://www.dw.com/en/stolen-melodies-copyright-law-in-africa/a-44149899

For a fee, those young men will download music onto USB sticks or a customer’s mobile phone. There are also a lot of stands selling CDs. Yet these do not tend to originate from the artists or even their music labels, instead the tracks have simply been downloaded from an online site. The only people profiting from the sales are the traders. The composers, songwriters and singers are left empty-handed. This is the biggest problem for creatives in Africa.

This goes without saying that it isn’t only the music industry affected by this but rather the film industry as well alongside other creators. Producing or distributing copies of someone else’s intellectual property without permission is an infringement of copyright law and this applies to Africa too.

Almost every country in Africa is a signatory of the international treaty for the protection of copyright, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which went into effect in 1886 — when most African countries were under colonial rule. Today the protection of copyright is dealt with in a variety of ways across the continent.

Benchmarking with other countries outside Africa:

National administrative organizations continue to be the mainstay of copyright protection. In Germany, for instance, the Society for Musical Performing and Mechanical Reproduction Rights (GEMA) fills that role. In the USA, a number of groups compete for the right to market and distribute creative works. In South Africa, the Southern African Music Rights Organization (SAMRO) is responsible. Musicians register their works with such groups, who are then tasked with enforcing copyright law. The groups collect royalties from radio stations, concert organizers and dealers and pay these out to artists. If a song is played or bought more often, the royalty payments increase accordingly.

Veit Erlmann an ethnomusicologist in an interview with DW,  Erlmann says the system “works pretty well” in South Africa but that isn’t the case in other countries though. A number of conditions have to be met for the system to function — and that is where the problems lie. Not all African artists register with their countries’ administrative agencies, for instance. And radio stations or concert organizers often fail to document just how often a song is played. Thus, if administrative groups cannot collect complete information about a work, artists also cannot be paid royalties for it. Moreover, many artists complain about the lack of transparency of the agencies themselves.

The future of the industry.

The cultural products business in Africa is expected to employ half a million people and create $4.2 billion in revenue. Much of this is now done in the informal economy, since the formal creative sector has long struggled to obtain money due to conventional risk-averse banks and the inability to fulfill collateral requirements. However, the enabling financial infrastructure has strengthened in the previous two years. The African Export-Import Bank, or Afreximbank , established a $500 million loan line in January 17th 2020 to promote African cultural and creative industries for the following two years. The Nigerian Central Bank, in collaboration with the Banker’s Committee, established a N22 billion fund for entrepreneurs and investors in the creative and IT sector.

According to the Heva Fund  African governments are increasingly realizing the importance of African creative industries and incorporating them into national economic and development strategies. Since its inception in 2015, Nairobi-based HEVA, Africa’s first fund dedicated to creative and cultural products and services, has raised between $200,000 and $500,000 in each of its three rounds. It has directly supported over 8,000 practitioners. Nigeria has about 189 million active mobile users, with a penetration rate of over 50%, while smaller markets such as Ghana were anticipated to reach 44 million customers by 2020, with a penetration rate of over 55%.

Music, cinema, television, and gaming are especially well-positioned for investment since they are non-rival commodities that profit directly from both Africa’s growing digital economy and consumer changes caused by the epidemic.

The Nigerian film industry has progressed from a high-volume, low-cost paradigm to one in which producers can now acquire finance to make films on par with their international counterparts. In September 2018, Netflix purchased its first original Nollywood film, Lionheart, which debuted at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. This year, Netflix launched its first two original African TV series, Queen Sono and Blood and Water, both set in South Africa.

Universal Music Group, Sony Music, and Warner Music Group, the world’s three largest record companies, have all entered the African market, either by signing African musicians, acquiring African record labels, or building offices on the continent.

According to Apple,  Apple Music has expanded in Africa, now covering 39 of the continent’s 54 nations, while Africa’s largest music-streaming service, Transsion Holdings’ Boomplay, concluded a $20 million series A investment last year to fund expansion. African musicians and the African music business as a whole are set to gain from rising global and regional demand.

COVID-19 has accelerated growth in yet another up-and-coming industry: gaming. Because of the popularity of mobile gaming, low cost of play, and a simpler production process than many console games, emerging countries are driving the 13.3% year-over-year increase predicted in 2020.

Prior to the epidemic, PwC anticipated that South Africa and Nigeria, Africa’s two largest gaming markets, would increase 13.2 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively. Carry 1st, a games development start-up located in Cape Town, has closed a $2.5 million seed round after collecting over 1.5 million downloads in a year with its number one game Carry1st Trivia in Nigeria and Kenya.

Africa’s creative industries have the potential to be more than just successful ventures; they can also help to solve the continent’s job creation and youth unemployment problems and enforcement of stringent copyright laws is key for this to happen.

Joyce Obuya

Relevant experience as a content writer. Highly proficient in Keyword Research and its tools. Experienced writer in both short-form and long-form blogs as well as Business Publications


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