Quick Thoughts on Copyright Law and Plagiarism in Kenya

The Intellectual Property law regime in Kenya is divided into two broad categories: Industrial Property and Copyright. Industrial Property includes patents, trademarks, industrial designs and utility models. Therefore if you have a product or process you wish to register as a patent, a logo, brand or name you wish to register as trademark, head over to the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI). They are now online: http://www.kipi.go.ke/

The second category of intellectual property is copyright. Copyright covers any original musical work, literary work, artistic work, audio visual work, sound recordings and broadcasts. Therefore original works done by poets, writers, bloggers, performers and other creators fall into this category. The most unique feature of copyright unlike industrial property is that ownership of copyright work exists as soon as the work is fixed in material form. Therefore there is no need for registration of works falling under the copyright law category. However copyright registration is provided for under our law as extra protection and it is strongly encouraged. All matters pertaining to copyright are handled by the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO). They are now online: http://www.copyright.go.ke/ and also on twitter: @KenyaCopyright.

Ownership and Protection of Copyright:

Now that we know that we own the exclusive copyright to whatever original work we blog, write on paper, sing, perform, the question arises of how do we deal with people who infringe our copyright or plagiarise our work.

As we know plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing!

The key distinguishing factor is the use intended. A copyright infringer copy-pastes/performs/ broadcasts/reproduces/translates your work in order to derive some commercial benefit. On the other hand, a plagiarizer copy-pastes/performs/ broadcasts/reproduces/translates your work in order to assume your identity as the author for purposes of recognition and attribution. Therefore every case of copyright infringement can also be plagiarism but not all cases of plagiarism amount to copyright infringement. So the law rightly recognizes copyright infringement as a criminal offence but not plagiarism.

Plagiarism is however widely considered as unethical and can result in expulsion or strong reprimand in almost all institutions of learning as well as in certain professions like journalism. Therefore the onus is on poets and writers to show that the case of plagiarism complained of also amounts to copyright infringement by showing that the work is being used for commercial gain without the poets’ or writers’ consent.

As far as protection goes, poets and writers writing online are encouraged to add a generic tag of “(c) (author’s name) 2011, All Rights Reserved” at the end of every work they upload online. Your contact details should also be easily accessible both on each individual work and on your site/blog in case attempts are made by a third party to contact you regarding consent to use your copyright work.

It must be stressed that victims of copyright infringement use the courts system only as a last resort. Litigation in Kenya is both expensive and time-consuming. The solution is therefore to try and settle out of court by confronting copyright infringers and plagiarizers directly. In the case of copyright infringement, I would add that the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) has State Counsels (paid by your taxes) who are more than willing to act as independent arbitrators and facilitate meetings at KECOBO’s offices between both parties in the dispute with a view to address the infringement issue and arrive at a suitable conclusion.

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One thought on “Quick Thoughts on Copyright Law and Plagiarism in Kenya

  1. Pingback: 10 cases of Plagiarism in Kenya

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