Out of Africa: Trade, Technology, and Knowledge—Part 3, Protecting Africa’s Intellectual Property
by Chevelle Dixon, Harvard University, African Studies and Economics
Not only is Africa benefiting from south-south and intra-regional information technology share and investment, the continent is also generating its own creative industry intellectual property. From fashion to music to media and film production, Africa is joining the global market in commodifying its creative industries. As the creative industry grows in Africa, policies and practices must be in place to protect African intellectual property.
There are several hindrances to the development of Africa’s creative industry including, but not limited to:
cultural intergenerational career bias
the proliferation of the black market
lack of business savvy on the part of artists, and
Viable careers in the creative industry has traditionally been discouraged in many African societies. Parents encourage students to pursue careers as lawyers, doctors, or engineers. The growth of creative industries in Africa has challenged this traditional thought of gameful employment. As creators are changing traditional views, they are also gaining business savvy in their craft.
There is no better example of the need for African artists to protect their intellectual property than that of Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango
. Dibango sued both Michael Jackson and Rihanna for sampling his song “Soul Makossa” without giving him credit in the songs “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” (1983) and “Don’t Stop the Music” (2008). Ora Kenneth Melie, film producer with the group Nollywood NYC, said it best: “I would rather be recognized for my work and unknown, than popular and poor.”
It is true that for artists, popularity doesn’t translate to financial prosperity. African artists must realize the value of their work and the importance of legally protecting their intellectual property. This means understanding the appropriate copyright, trademark, ownership, royalties, and distribution channel laws that expose or protect their creative works. Creative industry products are not only a reflection of culture, but they also serve as a means of reaching the global market.
Technology has also given rise to the need for creative ways to ensure profit from production distribution. While the black market and bootleggers can cut profits to creators, creators themselves must take control of the distribution of their own work. The black market and bootleggers have a real role in the supply chain of African creative products, and therefore should be reconsidered in the value-added chain of profit. Creators must find a way to engage the bootleggers and inform them of their responsibility in discouraging the production of creative products. Creators will need to also engage consumers in acknowledging their role in supporting pirated, lesser-quality products. Most of Africa's creative industry consumption comes from the diaspora. As artists have changed the intergenerational view of viable careers, they must begin a global dialogue of consumer awareness.
While the business savvy of artists and consumer awareness are crucial for protecting intellectual property on a cultural level, national government policies dictate the business environment for creative industries. Many African governments fail to enforce intellectual property protection laws—if there are any in place at all. There are institutional structural deficiencies that inhibit the protection of creative works in Africa, such as a lack of a trademark registry or dependency on foreign financial systems. Tax policies also discourage creative industry growth, as many foreign countries tax performances and imports/exports. Helene Faussart of the Grammy-nominated duo Les Nubians, argued that there should be a multi-national African entity that protects African intellectual property internally and on the global market. If African governments are unable to protect intellectual property, Helene argued that Africa would benefit from private-sector African-owned companies that model companies such as SSM Global Media, an international representation agency, and protect transnational copyright ownership. Countries that protect intellectual property rights will take the lead in Africa’s creative industry growth. These regional powerhouses will benefit from coming into the global market taking pride in and knowing the value of its creative industry products and services.
The creative industry is a growing business in Africa. Africa creative industry reflects African life, culture, and voice. African governments, consumers, the black market, and creators must all play their part in protecting intellectual property rights. African creators would benefit from being more savvy in business, knowing how to price, market, and distribute their craft. Infringing upon the intellectual property rights of artists clouds the critical mirror that creative industries reflect on society and stifles creativity, innovation, and economic growth.
This is the third of a three-part series. Previous post: part I
, part II