Copyright protection and streaming: rwandan law perspective

At the risk of coming across as even more uncool than usual, I’ve been thinking about copyright protection lately. During one of my frequent digital wanderings, I stumbled on a story about attempts by the film and recording industry pushing legislation in California to enable police to search disc duplication factories without having to obtain a warrant beforehand. Those behind the legislation argue that illegal mass reproduction of music and movies undermine the local economy and steal revenue from those who create those works.

At the risk of coming across as even more uncool than usual, I’ve been thinking about copyright protection lately. During one of my frequent digital wanderings, I stumbled on a story about attempts by the film and recording industry pushing legislation in California to enable police to search disc duplication factories without having to obtain a warrant beforehand.

Those behind the legislation argue that illegal mass reproduction of music and movies undermine the local economy and steal revenue from those who create those works.

A commenter succinctly noted a key problem with this approach ‘Who uses CD’s and DVD’s anymore?”.

Putting aside issues of civil liberties- obviously warrantless searches are a constitutional violation- the commenter was right to point that out. Issues of copyright violation have moved far from the idea of physical ownership of artistic works.

These days, law enforcement officials would have to search a person’s computer to find out if a copyright infringement has occurred. People are also likely to ‘stream’ films and TV shows online as opposed to copying them onto CD’s or downloading them.

But the story also got me wondering how Rwandan law deals with streaming video online in the event that these videos are copyright protected elsewhere. If you haven’t been acquainted with Rwanda’s intellectual property law, then let me break the bad news: it’s biblically long.

All told, it comes in at an eye-watering, brain-frying, sleep-inducing 367 pages (although you get to take your pick from the three official languages). It contains repeated references to ‘phonograms’ and ‘fixation’ and some passages look like they were run through Google translate first.

It is not only boring (and Rwanda certainly has some readable laws) but also awkwardly constructed and meandering. However, it is-by and large- also fairly comprehensive on issues of intellectual property.

First, it should be noted that the law does not only protect nationals/residents of Rwanda, but also foreigners provided that their Country of origin has signed the relevant Intellectual Property conventions that Rwanda is a party to.

So should Warner Brothers for example, decide to ride into town and uphold their intellectual property rights, they would be able to rely on our law to do so.

In the case of copyright protection- which is what we would be dealing with here- The law sets out a list of moral and economic rights, but in the case of the latter (which is more relevant here) these focus on more traditional actions that could infringe on copyright (reproduction, translation, adaptation, renting, distribution, public performance and communication of the work). 

But as noted earlier, copyright infringement changes with technology. What about streaming a film or a TV show online for example? This is where it gets a bit tricky.

The law doesn’t make explicit reference to this, but it would probably fall under ‘to perform a work’ which references an audio-visual work.

(This should of course be distinguished from ‘public performance of a work’ which is more clear-cut). It seems like a fairly awkward way to frame the act, and it doesn’t provide concrete examples aside from this definition. 

However there is no reference to this kind of ‘performance’ of a work in the sections protecting the author of a work under copyright.

As noted earlier, the list of economic rights are provided in the law but none of them would cover streaming of an audiovisual work online (it certainly wouldn’t count as public performance if the said streaming is occurring in private).

Article 195 does provide for the protection of original or derivative works under copyright, but this protection has to be tied to a forbidden act.

As such, the streaming of the video is an act which technically would be difficult to designate as illegal.

Certainly the failure of the law to directly identify certain actions- ‘streaming’ and ‘downloading’ for example-make things a bit more hazy than they should be.

minega@trustchambers.com

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