IP at the 21st Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU)

The 21st Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) held from 19 – 27 May has just ended.  The long-awaited PAIPO stakeholders’ meeting did not form part of the Summit (see the agenda documents here and here). IP does not seem to have been expressly addressed although it is implicit in a few agenda items. For example, the press release issued at the close of the summit notes the following:

The Assembly urged Member States to join forces for a more dynamic pursuit of public policies for the African film industry, focusing on priority and innovative actions that could, most expeditiously, allow for the production, dissemination and distribution of African film and audio-visual products; to establish a credit fund in each Member State as a way to step up film production; to implement the legal instruments and tools provided for in national cultural policies; and to ensure progressive and sustainable systematization of co-production with all TV networks; the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities to support African film production, promote free circulation of African film industry products and activate movie production tools and instruments.’

As films are primarily protected by copyright, the policies and legal instruments referred to in the press release will include copyright policies and legislation. There has already been some interesting research on copyright and the film industry in Africa. For example, the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) at the American University Washington College of Law conducted a study on the experiences of South African filmmakers focusing on “(1) the problems that current interpretations of South African Copyright law may be posing to the development of the documentary film industry, and (2) opportunities to address those problems through changes in law or the practice of filmmakers” ( see Overview of PIJIP’s Work on Copyright and International Documentary Film) . The study report concluded that some reform of copyright law was necessary to address these problems such as ‘as expanding the incidental use exception for “artistic works” to include audio and broadcast video sources’ (Sean Flynn and Peter Jaszi Untold Stories in South Africa: Creative Consequences of the Rights Clearance Culture for Documentary Filmmakers, 2009, p.28). The copyright issues which confront fictional or creative films are also well documented, albeit with a focus on Nollywood. Examples of relevant discussions include Arewa’s  article on “The Rise of Nollywood: Creators, Entrepreneurs, and Pirates” and Tiller’s blog post on “Nollywood and the copyright conundrum“. On the one hand, copyright in Nollywood films is infringed  on a massive scale, whilst on the other hand, Nollywood film makers have been accused of copyright infringement. Any copyright solution will thus have to be carefully balanced to serve both creator and user rights as African film-makers clearly fall into both camps. The solution also needs to take the interests of society generally as films are often an integral part of culture. The AU Assembly’s  call for the AU to support African film-making has (perhaps unintentionally) raised important copyright issues. It will be interesting  to see how the AU approaches this task.


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