For too long, the blame has been laid at the doorstep of the Liberian Copyright Office for not doing much to protect creators’ intellectual property. But LIB Life has recently discovered that the continued increase in copyright infringement is the result of creative artists’ lack of eagerness to copyright their work.
Almost all of the creative works on the Liberian market, ranging from film, music, works of drawing and painting to architecture, sculpture, engraving, lithography and tapestry are not copyright protected.
This inaction on the part of creators gives pirates the freedom to duplicate and sell artists’ works in the tens of thousands, thereby making a killing, while the actual owners of said intellectual property make very little from their creativity.
Most creators LIB Life interviewed admitted that they do not copyright their work because they feel too much bureaucracy actually makes it difficult for the copyright office to function. For example, if the copyright office wants to enforce the copyright law by getting rid of pirated products, the copyright office has to write the Ministry of Justice to request security to carry out the raid.
In addition, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, under which the work of the Copyright Office directly falls, has to first give its consent before such an action is taken.
This kind of bureaucracy takes time before it turns into action, and most often, it does not become a reality.
Another typical example was “Operation Big Fish”, which was carried out a few years ago by then acting Officer in Charge, Ernest Bruce. It was an initiative meant to enforce the copyright law by clearing the market of large quantities of pirated work.
But the enforcement did not last for more than one day because support from other line ministries (Justice, Information Cultural Affairs & Tourism AND the Ministry of Commerce & Industry) was not forthcoming.
“In a few hours’ time during the enforcement, a few stores that sell pirated products were closed. But the support needed was not present to from the line ministries to continue the enforcement. The worst part is that we did not get security [personnel] from the Ministry of Justice. I think the reason this is happening is because there is a, there is a school of thought that enforcing he copyright law will have a negative impact on our economy, and it is this kind of thinking that is killing the creators,” Ernest Bruce, former office in Charge of Copyright said.
Another point creative artists stress is that many of them are not aware of the copyright law describing the Copyright Office as an institution that does not create awareness about its function and about why artists should trust them despite the bureaucracy.
While the artists’ point of argument is logical in terms of the prohibitive level of bureaucracy which undermines the independent function of the copyright office and the lack of awareness, this should not be an excuse that prevents artists from copyrighting their works.
One thing all Liberian creators need to understand is that their creation is an asset; and as such, copyright protection of their creativity plays a very key role in the life of creators as it gives them the legal rights and opportunity to generate income years after the work has been produced (royalties, license fees, etc.)
Weather it is books, films, paintings, sculptures or music, copyright protection gives creators the rights to license it for distribution and/or reproduction as well as generating royalties from the work.
For example, if an artist produces a very soul stirring and inspiring song, which then becomes a hit, he or she automatically owns the copyright since it his/her creation. But when it comes to copyright infringement, that artist will find it difficult to win such a case in court, get royalties from his work or license it if the work is not copyrighted.
Former veteran musician, Abraham Kallon said, “Copyrighting gives creators the legal rights to pursue anyone who infringes on your work — either by making them pay for any monetary loss incurred or carrying them to court. I think it is advisable that every Liberian creator copyright their work. No matter the problem, they need to remember that their creation is their asset.
“Copyrighting it gives you the opportunity to decide to choose between those who want permission to use your work, making sure that you gain from the license given out or stopping anyone who is using it without your knowledge.
“Remember that when an artist gives a license out, it is a legal authorization permitting the said party to use that work, whether it is distribution or reproduction. It also protects your work, and it serves as evidence against others who do not have license to use your work but are using it.
“When your work is copyrighted, it makes it easy for you to win such a case in court, especially in the case of copyright infringement,” Kallon added.