2 December 2012

Ethiopia: Where Technology Complicates Rights


Technological progress and copyright law have been linked since the beginning of time. These days, however, piracy has become easier.

The number of books in Europe was in thousands before the advent of the movable typewriter in 1436, which eventually pushed the number up to tens of millions. This proliferation of books and accompanying economic opportunities created a situation that urged a need for the protection of copyright of authors and publishers.

Hence, the first copyright law in the world was born in 1710, in England. The US waited till 1790 to enact its first copyright law.

In Ethiopia, copyright law has a constitutional base. While Article 40 of the constitution recognises the private property rights of citizens, it included intangible products of individual creativity. Thus,Ethiopiabelongs to the continental European legal system in terms of the objective of this regime of its law, in contrast to the common law legal system that protects copyright primarily not because the public interest demands encouraging local creativity but because the fruit of the mind naturally belongs to the self.

The law gives exclusive rights to publish, reproduce, distort and alter or make any derivative work to the one who creates literary or artistic works, throughout his life and for additional period of 50 years, even after his death. The innovator gains the right immediately after she fixes the creation to a certain means of communications which enables another to copy it.

The innovator can transfer his economic interests on the work, only in a written form. But if the she created the work to her employer or through commission, she will not have the right but the employer.

The right does not protect the idea of the innovator but the way it is expressed. This means, for example, a lyricist who has written about the fountains of theBlue Nilecannot forbid any one from writing a song about the same issue. Even the right does not enable him to stop another legal person from creating a similar product. The latter bears just the duty to prove that he has not copied from the former.

The privileges of the owner of the right go further to make him forbid any public commercial exploitation of the work. As a result, the owner of the right on a musical work has to give her permission for tuning it in a bar, let alone broadcasting it through television or radio.

Ethiopian copyright owners prefer transmissions of their works for free. The reason might be that they take it as a way of promotion or source of popularity if not for mental satisfaction.

Indeed, the copyright of a song belongs to everyone who contributes to it. Thus, everyone is entitled to a right over their contribution.

As it appears, however, technological advancement is becoming the culprit for effective enforcement of copyright. Piracy is becoming easy with the help of modern technology. Though the former Ethiopian copyright law is repealed by the new one issued in 2004, the rampant infringement of the right remains bothering. Enforcing the right, then, does not call for issuance of a new comprehensive. What seems to be of high demand is enforcing the existing law to the extent that its provisions triumph.

The right belongs to everyone who has created an intellectual property in Ethiopia and for those creations that Ethiopians made everywhere on earth. Foreigners also enjoy it if they register their works inEthiopiawithin a month time.

The protection of the right is not absolute, though. For the purpose of personal use, quotations, teachings, libraries, informatory, archives, and private performance free of charge does not need permission from the owner, if not done in a way detrimental to the interest of the owner.

Redress for infringement of the right includes provisional and permanent measures to prevent copies from dissemination; payment of, moral damages, not exceeding 100, 000 Br and material damages.

Nonetheless, the right owners should not expect too much from the government. They have to do this using the already existing state machineries.

There can use softwares that enable the original copy to be immune from copying. Other mechanisms, such as lowering prices of original copies and organising associations of right-holders that can campaign on raising public awareness would help combating infringement of rights.

Tagel Getahun Is an Advocate in Law.

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