New Southern/East African Copyright Network Targets Protection, Local Innovation

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By Wagdy Sawahel for Intellectual Property Watch
Seventeen African ministers of arts and culture have officially launched the newly formed Southern and Eastern Africa Copyright Network (Seaconet) in a bid to strengthen regional collaboration and cooperation in the field of creative industries, copyright and related rights.

“The need to create Seaconet is due to the lack of a regional forum where issues relating to the promotion and protection of creative industries, copyright and related rights could be discussed,” said Serman Chavula, executive director of the Copyright Society of Malawi.

The announcement came at a 30 May ministerial meeting held in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Malawi-based Seaconet will focus on priority areas such as the adoption of a constitution, setting up a secretariat, harmonisation of copyright laws, and reduction of piracy through introduction of anti-piracy mechanisms acceptable throughout the region. It also will establish a regional information database for all artistic and cultural activities, awareness campaigns on the role of the cultural industries, copyright and related rights in national and regional development and organise a training programme for developing human resources in the field of intellectual property rights.

The group includes Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It will act as a regional organisation where issues relating to the promotion and protection of creative industries, copyright and related rights can be discussed.

During the meeting the secretariat and the executive council of Seaconet were elected. It consists of Yustus Mkinga from Copyright Society of Tanzania as president, Serman Chavula from Copyright Society of Malawi as secretariat. The executive council members include Peter Wasamba from the Reproduction Rights Society of Kenya , John Max from the Namibia Society of Composers and Authors of Music, Joel Baloyi from the Southern African Music Rights Organisation, and Kenneth Musamva from Zambia as copyright registrar officer.

The creation of Seaconet was originally proposed at a sub-regional workshop of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), held from 25-28 April 2005, on copyright and related rights and on establishing a mechanism for regional cooperation in the field of copyright, related rights and cultural industries.

Similar organisations already exist in West and Central Africa, the Caribbean, Latin American, the United States, the Nordic countries, European countries and in Asia.

Speaking to Intellectual Property Watch, Eltayeb Mohamed Abdelgadir, researcher at Sudan-based Agricultural Research Corporation, said the move could lead to legislative changes.

Abdelgadir said countries of Southern and East Africa are bound to amend their legislation in order to introduce higher standards of intellectual property protection since they are party to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). However, he charged that the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was stacked against these countries from inception because it was negotiated in a non-transparent manner that resulted in a lack of the background information about TRIPS necessary for interpreting the proposed rules. Thus, Seaconet will have a vital role in organising training programmes for promoting awareness about the TRIPs background, premises and intent of the adopted text.

Abdelgadir indicated Seaconet should also promote synergy within the countries of Southern and East Africa to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, and with other similar intergovernmental organisations and agencies, in order to learn from their experiences.

The people of Southern and East Africa are endowed with an abundant heritage of a diversity of cultures, arts, folklore, languages and biological diversity which is expressed through traditional knowledge systems, traditional knowledge and indigenous innovations. However, this knowledge lacks legal recognition and protection.

According to Abdelgadir, Seaconet is expected to play a leading role in establishing an African mechanism and model of legislation for recognising and protecting both knowledge and innovations derived from traditional knowledge systems and the rights of local communities bearing in mind the unique lifestyles and social structures in Southern and East Africa.

Heavy Hand of Industry?

But the region is confronted with the challenge of being asked to fight piracy of others’ copyrighted material and seeking protection for its own. “We cannot ask for protecting our traditional knowledge and we are using the software illegally,” Abdelgadir said.

According to foreign industry, African pirates are rapidly entering the market of member countries of Seaconet with Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe added in 2007 to the top 23 list of high piracy states as determined in a report by the Business Software Alliance, an umbrella group for developed-nation industry.

Abdelgadir cited BSA figures that piracy has become endemic in many African countries, leading to a threat to copyright-based industry as BSA studies indicated that a 10 percent reduction by 2009 in piracy could spark growth in the information technology business, and resulting tax revenue, of some US$22.5 billion in the Middle East and Africa. Abdelgadir did not mention that in recent years, BSA figures have been called into question.

Abdelgadir said, as a result of industry concerns, Seaconet must prepare innovative ways to create public awareness on detrimental effects of piracy and counterfeiting and suggest strategies to empower investors in the industry as well as enhancing and enforcing intellectual property laws to promote Africa`s use of information technology as a tool for sustainable development.

Abdelgadir concluded by saying “it is good for Southern and Eastern African countries to have Seaconet, but we need it to be strong, active and effective organisation, not just a talking shop for decoration.”

Wagdy Sawahel may be reached at

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  1. serman chavula says

    I would like, first to thank you for the article on seaconet. It captured the mood which existed during the launch of the Network. It is our hope the it will contribute to the strengthening of collaboration and cooperation in the field of copyright and related rights in the sub-region.
    Secondly, I read with great interest the comments and suggestions made by Mr. Eltayeb Mohamed Abdelgadir on seaconet. It is encouraging that the creation and role SEACONET is already being seen and appreaciated at international level. I agree that sometimes well thought organizations only appear on paper. However, our hope is that this will not happen to SEACONET. We have already started implementing some of the decisions of the meeting in Lilongwe particularly the SWOT analysis of our copyright legislations. This will definitely lead to changes in legislations of the subregion.

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