Court of Appeal Settles 20 Year Copyright Dispute: Case of Mount Kenya Sundries v Macmillan Publishers

Macmillan Memorial Library Kenya

A recent judgment by the Court of Appeal in the case of Mount Kenya Sundries Ltd v Macmillan Kenya (Publishers) Ltd [2016] eKLR involved a copyright infringement claim with respect to two maps of Kenya produced between 1985 and 1990 by the Respondent, Macmillan (now known as Moran Publishers). At the High Court, Macmillan had successfully proved that Mount Kenya had reproduced and sold its maps without its authorisation contrary to the Copyright Act. This High Court decision has been discussed previously here.

In the present appeal, the court reconsidered the evidence, evaluated the submissions of both parties in order to determine several key issues including locus standi (standing to sue), copyright ownership of the maps and copyright infringement of the maps.

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Demystifying the Role of Copyright as a Tool for Economic Development in Africa: Tackling the Harsh Effects of the Transferability Principle in Copyright Law

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“It is…submitted that the system of alienable copyright is not conducive for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and cannot, unless the legislatures of these countries intervene, ever give rise to a sustainable, home-bred and poverty alleviating industry.” – JJ Baloyi, 2014.

This blogger has recently come across a compelling article titled “Demystifying the Role of Copyright as a Tool for Economic Development in Africa: Tackling the Harsh Effects of the Transferability Principle in Copyright Law” written by JJ Baloyi in the South African Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal. A copy of the article is available here. The central argument in Baloyi’s article is that the transferability principle in copyright law has had the inadvertent effect of stifling copyright-based entrepreneurship, and thus economic development in Sub-Saharan African countries that inherited copyright laws from their erstwhile colonial masters, England or France.

This blogpost discusses Baloyi’s well-written article and examines its implications for Kenya especially in light of the possible solutions put forward to tackle the ‘harsh effects’ of the system of assignment under copyright within Africa.

Baloyi’s article asks the question why many Sub-Saharan African countries, though having copyright and related rights laws and though generally endowed with rich cultural resources, have not been able to realise significant economic development and growth from the economic exploitation of intellectual property (IP) works and legally-protectable expressions emanating from such resources. Baloyi, former General Counsel at SAMRO, attempts to answer this question with a focus on the music industry where he draws most of his insights, observations and experience.

The article submits that there are several sets of barriers hindering musical entrepreneurship in Africa including psychological barriers, barriers in relation to the business environment, barriers relating to external ability and barriers in relation to the influence of demographics.

On psychological barriers, the article starts by appreciating the stress and hard work involved in giving us great musical pieces that we, as society, have become accustomed to. In this regard, the copyright regime demands that musicians exert themselves through their skill, time and judgment in order to create works that are original originating from their own efforts rather than slavish copies of works produced by the efforts of others. Therefore the article submits that expecting musical artists to be entrepreneurs in addition to being creators, is requiring more than the ordinary from them! Nonetheless these creators should be encouraged to be entrepreneurs even though it is accepted that not all artists will be entrepreneurs, just as not all lawyers can be entrepreneurs, for instance! Therefore artists who surround themselves with good advisors, would only need to display an entrepreneurial mind-set and leave the entrepreneurial activities to others.

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Still on psychological matters, the article argues that the possession of IP within an environment where there is a strong IP protection regime is a strong determinant of entrepreneurial growth aspirations. Therefore, ownership of copyright in such an environment should be a strong motivation for artists to be involved in entrepreneurial activities.

Regarding barriers in relation to the business environment, the article observes that the lack of social networks becomes crucial in two instances, firstly collaborations where an artist seeks to jointly author a musical work with artists endowed with different skills and secondly marketing where an artist decides to market his own musical works.

The article gives primary focus to the lack of resources which it maintains is the main difficulty experienced by artists in Africa in respect of securing funding for their music entrepreneurial endeavours. In this regard, the article observes that most authors of musical works find themselves with no option but to assign i.e. transfer ownership in, their copyright to music publishers under terms that are highly unfavourable to the authors. It follows that once these authors have accumulated enough savings over time (due to the barriers relating to demographics) to incorporate and market their own publishing and recording companies, they find it difficult to engage in entrepreneurial activities relating to their copyrights as these rights have long been assigned to others. This so-called “endless cycle” is the main problem Baloyi seeks to address through his article.

Therefore the article argues that the artists’ lack of resources necessary to engage in entrepreneurial activities vis-a-vis their copyright works denies them the enjoyment of the rent-creation benefits under copyright licensing whereby the copyright owner may grant either an exclusive or a non-exclusive license to a user, in exchange for payment or compensation. Therefore these licenses would be able to earn the artists (and their heirs in title) income in the nature of rents (i.e. royalties) for the duration of the copyright.

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In light of the above, the article argues that Sub-Saharan African countries should develop its copyright laws to address concerns relating to the internal conditions and developmental needs of their countries. This article points out the examples of United States, Canada, the European Union and India which have moulded their copyright laws in light of their unique prevailing circumstances to produce home-grown solutions. In this regard, the article submits that beyond the minimum standards required in Berne and TRIPs, African nations can craft provisions that would safeguard the interests of their creators while not offending their international obligations.

The article is categorical that the dualist systems in common and civil law traditions of African countries result in the “endless cycle” where authors cannot exploit their copyright works as explained above. In this regard, the article refers favourably to the German system of author’s rights (a monist system) where the economic rights are seen as being interwoven with the moral rights and thus cannot be separated out, making them incapable of being assigned. The article argues that the monist concept of authors’ rights is consistent with the human rights approach to intellectual property rights espoused in South Africa and other Sub-Saharan African countries.

The legislative and policy solutions put forward in the article include, the use of reversionary provisions in copyright legislations, structuring music business contracts to safeguard the interests of artists and strengthening the role of collective management organisations (CMOs). In conclusion, Baloyi appeals to the legislatures in Sub-Saharan Africa to take advantage of the evolutionary nature of copyright and its changing paradigm internationally:-

“Rather than holding to the tenets of a system that has so far failed their countries, it would be responsible for the legislators of these countries to start thinking of those elements in other copyright systems that they can incorporate into their laws to unshackle their authors from the harsh effects of the transferability rule.”

To Photocopy or Not to Photocopy: The Role of the Reproduction Rights Society in Kenya

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One of the local newspapers recently published an article titled: “Can’t someone stop this photocopying madness?”, which raises the alarm over high levels of illegal photocopying especially in tertiary institutions of learning, namely our universities. The writer explains:

We were taught in classes that photocopying a book without the requisite permission of the copyright holder would be against the law, except for the very strict exemptions made on the copyright page of the book. Yet at student centres and other photocopying areas in institutions of higher learning, the exact opposite of this lesson goes on in the open.
Students photocopy entire books. Some shop owners photocopy books in advance and store them for sale. With such scenarios, what does the student learn? That the lessons on copyright law are a mere hot air?

Recently, a news feature was published by Al Jazeera titled: “Photocopying courts India campus controversy” which was premised on the on-going Indian High Court case of Oxford University Press and Others vs Rameshwari Photocopy Services and Delhi University. In this case, Cambridge University Press (CUP), Oxford University Press (OUP) and Taylor & Francis, the three of the world’s largest publishers have filed a case in court seeking to stop the reproductions of their work into study packs and course packs for students.

Authors and publishers all over the world contend that they fully support free access to information. But they have come to realise that their contended principle of free flow of information must not be confused with the idea of the flow of free information. After all, books, journals, newspapers etc. cost money to produce and the same must apply to the right to reproduce them, particularly through photocopying. The only way authors and publishers have been able to deal with this situation has been through collective administration of rights. It is widely agreed that no single author or publisher can effectively police the use or abuse of its bundle of rights throughout a whole national territory let alone the world at large. Thus, collective administration is a solution devised to overcome the many difficulties which individuals authors and other rights holders face in the enforcement of their rights separately by themselves in the face of fast-growing technologies of the modern world.

In the case of reproduction rights, one of the practical, instrumental and utlity organs in the process of this collective administration is the reprographic rights organisation (RRO). Simply put, the RRO aims to deal with both unauthorised reproduction of copyright works for internal use as well as for the market place. This reproduction is dealt with through licensing. The RRO is therefore an intermediary organisation. It brings the rights holders in contact with the users. It facilitates understanding between the owners and users of copyright rights. Most importantly, it negotiates with, and grants licenses to the users to use the works of authors on the one hand; and on the other, it ensures that authors and publishers are justly remunerated for their works and investments.

This blogger believes that in both the Indian and Kenya scenarios highlighted in the media reports above, the RRO is clearly missing from the picture yet the latter plays an important role in striking the right balance between the rights of the copyright holders on the one hand, and the interests of the users on the other hand. This blogger is indeed surprised that the reprographic society in India (IRRO) has not sought to be enjoined in the Delhi University court case yet it is an interested party given the issues for determination by the judges in that case.

KOPIKEN Launch Collective Management Reproduction Rights Society of Kenya

Meanwhile, here in Kenya, we have the Reproduction Rights Society of Kenya (KOPIKEN) which is fully functional but seems not to have attained the critical mass in terms of licensees for reproduction of printed works yet all indications are that the photocopying business is booming in most urban centres countrywide. Regarding the universities in Kenya, this blogger would be correct in stating that over 95% of them are not licensed by KOPIKEN yet these institutions are actively engaged in photocopying both for internal use and also as indirect commercial activity.

Therefore, the time has come for KOPIKEN to assert itself on behalf of all the local and foreign authors, publishers and other rightsholders in the print medium whom they duly represent. Borrowing from the situation in India, this bloggers contends that time has come for KOPIKEN to consider litigation as a means of ensuring compliance with the copyright law, deterring infringers and creating jurisprudence in this silent area of the law. In respect to the last point of jurisprudence, litigation by KOPIKEN against one of the local universities would also allow the courts to revisit the questions surrounding the exceptions and limitations (fair dealing) provisions contained in section 28 of the Copyright Act, particularly as they relate to educational institutions, libraries and archives.