Copyright education: An urgent necessity in Africa

April 23 is World Book and Copyright Day

This blog post is the fourth in a series of collaborative blogs between ADEA and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

World Book and Copyright Day is celebrated every year on April 23, a symbolic date for world literature. This is the day in 1616 on which William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died.

Additionally, every year UNESCO and three international organizations from the book industry—the International Publishers Association (IPA), the International Booksellers Federation (IBF), and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)—select a city to serve as the World Book Capital for a period of one year, effective April 23. This year, the city of Conakry in Guinea was chosen.  

Copyright and its challenges in Africa

Copyright protection has been a key issue in Africa for decades. This blog is thus nothing new for those who are familiar with the life of the book in most African countries, the main feature of which is constant breaches of all sorts – illegal photocopying of documents, pirating of literary and scientific works (including school textbooks on a large scale), and a lack of awareness of the law and protective measures in place.

Three observations on the copyright culture

On the basis of contact with publishers and authors across the continent, we can make the following introductory observations on the culture of copyright, which can be summarized in three main points:

  1. Everybody talks about copyright, but very few are familiar with its legal aspects. This is particularly true of publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, and NGOs that publish works. We highlight the lack of awareness even of the existence of national policies in terms of copyright and related rights in a large number of countries.
  2. Writers themselves often have a limited understanding of the scope and the concrete forms of protection that existing copyright legislation brings them, on both a national and international level. There is no circulation of information, especially for new authors and those who have published little. Some publishers, both in the north and the south, take advantage of this situation to engage in abusive behavior (especially in the area of school textbooks) and do not pay any royalties on books sold.   
  3. There is little or no collaboration between publishers’ associations, and even writers’ associations in some cases, and bodies responsible for protecting copyright in each country, in particular the national copyright offices.

This situation constitutes a major stumbling block to intellectual creation.

It is obvious that compliance with copyright law encourages national creativity, which will lead to the emergence of a cultural industry, a source of economic wealth and job creation.

Clearly, this practice results in an increase in copyright infringement, one of the main factors undermining the motivation of creative literary types. This phenomenon reaches major proportions when it comes to works created in national languages.

The existence of regulations is no guarantee that they will be applied

National policies covering copyright protection exist in all African countries and are implemented by the national copyright offices. However, in the specific area of literary production, most publishing houses manage copyright directly, without complying with any national legislation, especially in French-speaking countries.

In fact, both in terms of defining the terms and conditions of the contract and the way it is managed, each publishing house applies its own method, whether this is in line with internationally accepted standards or not.

But, one thing that has been achieved is that African publishers comply with the principle of the obligation of drawing up contracts with writers, even if there is not always any guarantee that these contracts will actually be implemented. Education and awareness raising will contribute to this effort.  

Awareness, dialogue, and consultation for the protection of copyright

In this situation, one of the urgent challenges is ensuring, through all entities dealing with copyright, awareness of national and international laws regarding copyright protection and the right to reproduce reprographically, and disseminating this knowledge as widely as possible within the organizations that bring together the different actors of the book chain in the country.

In fact, awareness of the importance of compliance and of effective copyright protection can only be achieved today through dialogue and consultation among all players of the book chain at the local, national, regional, sub-regional, and international levels.

This consultation must necessarily involve decision makers, legal experts, civil society, as well as  communication and media professionals. 

More generally, mechanisms that are linked both to education and to copyright protection must be taken into consideration in national book policies to be implemented in countries, as repeatedly suggested by the ADEA Working Group on Books and Learning Materials (WGBLM).

Final recommendations and suggestions

In terms of strategies that could be envisaged for awareness raising and copyright education, the following approaches are recommended to national professional associations, among others:

  1. organization of professional events and training activities that will raise the profile of copyright protection initiatives (e.g. focus days, seminars, and training workshops for publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, legal experts, etc.)
  2. monitoring of the application of national book policies, especially clauses relating to copyright protection
  3. media outreach to disseminate information materials and raise public awareness of the promotion of and compliance with copyright protection.  

Notwithstanding the fact that African countries are lagging behind in this area, they must embrace the global process relating to copyright trends and promotion. We must not allow ourselves to be marginalized and progress will only be made through a major education program for all stakeholders in the book industry, with a view to ensuring widespread awareness and making copyright protection a real tool for the motivation of literary and artistic creation.

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