Artistes root for tough copyright laws

KIGALI - Ahead of the of the World Intellectual Property (IP) Day to be marked tomorrow under the theme “Designing the Future”, Rwandan artistes and authors have called on the government to enforce the existing intellectual property laws to fully protect their rights.
Handcrafts are  protected by the Intellectual Property Law (File Photo)
Handcrafts are protected by the Intellectual Property Law (File Photo)

KIGALI - Ahead of the of the World Intellectual Property (IP) Day to be marked tomorrow under the theme “Designing the Future”, Rwandan artistes and authors have called on the government to enforce the existing intellectual property laws to fully protect their rights.

Despite a recent act passed by the government, the majority of Rwanda artistes and authors believe that a lot needs to be done to ensure that copyright, patents, industrial designs and trademarks are protected on part of artistes and government as well.

In an interview with The New Times, Epaphrodite Binamungu, the president of Rwanda Society of Authors’ (RSAU) said that the government had put in place initiatives to ensure that intellectual property is protected but more needs to be done.

“As artistes, composers and authors, this day is important for us to come together and reflect on what we should do to ensure that our properties and rights are protected so that we can benefit from them,” Binamungu said.

“We earn a living out of our composition and creations, so if we don’t have strict enforcement of copyright laws, we will continue losing not only financial resources but also our rights to our properties,” he added.

Binamungu, however, said that the government had shown commitment to protect intellectual properties especially through the enactment of the new law as well the crackdown by the Rwanda National Police (RNP) on individuals pirating intellectual property.

“We want to thank the government for the support directed to us in a bid to set up our association. We now have a seat at MINISPOC, PSF has given us computers while MINICOM has offered to pay salaries to staff,” he said.

“We see this as a very important step towards ensuring the protection of intellectual property in the years to come, considering that there were no such initiatives, in the past, aimed at copyrighting intellectual properties,” Binamungu added.

While Binamungu sees a bright future on copyrighting intellectual property in Rwanda, a legal expert in the field believes that not all legal instruments needed to protect IP’s are in place.

According to Ronald Musoni, a lawyer who specialises in copyright laws, the enacted law on the protection of IP’s is general, hence the need for specific laws on copyrights, patents, industrial designs and trademarks.

“The law which is in force today is a general act. Protecting Intellectual Property is a very deep subject and there is need for specific laws that are particular to the concerns we face in this area,” Musoni told The New Times.

He noted that while Rwanda had shown the will to ratify several international treaties on the protection of IP’s, there were still major challenges especially in putting in place instruments to ensure that copyrights are not infringed.

“I would say there have been some efforts but still there is a lot to be done. We have just taken initial steps and there is a lot of work ahead if we are to move at pace with other countries,” Musoni added.

Among other things, he noted that there was need for sensitisation as many people are unaware that intellectual properties or brands can be copyrighted at the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) while others do not see the need to.

He observed that the government needs to set up a fully fledged office, whose job would go beyond just registration of copyrights but also patenting and evaluating brands as well as sensitising the masses.

“For the last 17 years, Rwanda has developed several brands that can even go international but the question is how can we evaluate our brands and then patent them? Usually a brand has a value attached to it but we don’t have frameworks and instruments to this,” he added.

A leading musician Natty Dread Mitali believes there are many challenges on the side of artistes and composers if copyright and patent laws are to be effected.

“Most of our artistes especially in the music industry lack originality. For example, today, a young person will wake up in the morning, without any music experience, walks into a studio and with the help of the computer, comes out with a song,” Mitali observed.

“Most of these songs are produced over beats that are aped from other people’s songs especially from the US. Even when that person can’t sing, they use the computer to make them sound better. How do you expect such a person to know about copyright?” wondered Mitali.

The reggae star argued that if the government could invest in the music industry, just like it does in sports, the rich traditional Rwandan music could be modernised, patented and exported instead of copying foreign genres.

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