The Crippling of IP and the Creative Sector in Liberia
By Ernie Bruce
On the African continent today, intellectual property protection for creators and inventors is more common place in some countries despite challenges, while there are others that are yet to develop and implement meaningful legislation for the protection of creators and inventors; Liberia is one of those.
In 1911, Liberia approved its first law on copyright called, An Act Relating to Copyright (1911). The modest two-page document, which preceded the enactment of two additional laws: An Act Adopting a New Copyright Law of Liberia (1997), and the current Liberia Intellectual Property Act, 2016, was a clear indication that more than 100 years ago, Liberia was cognizant of the importance of the protection of the literary and artistic communities within its borders. Additionally, Liberia is signatory to several Conventions for the protection of intellectual property (industrial and literary and artistic works), and has recently accessioned to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Despite these notable accomplishments in the enactment of laws, its membership to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and being signatory to the Bern and Paris Conventions, Liberia has not been successful in establishing effective mechanisms for the implementation and enforcement of its intellectual property regime for the protection of all creative stakeholders.
Liberian entertainment, particularly music, is experiencing a SURGE in its existence. While we have experienced previous surges in almost every decade since the days of the “Greenwood Singers” in the 1940’s, the current surge is unique, in that it now struggles to maintain its force in the midst of a plethora of challenges for all creators. The open sales of illegal audio visual and musical products, the lack of enforcement to protect creators, the absence of a functioning Collective Management Organization that will collect from USERS of music on behalf of the CREATORS of music, and the absence of cohesiveness in the Collective Societies (particularly the Musicians’ Union). These and other challenges render the current surge in entertainment a paradoxical one. Here are some perplexing questions:
- Given Liberia’s cognizance of the importance of copyright as is indicated by the enactment of its first copyright law in 1911, one hundred and seven years ago, why has she been eclipsed by other African nations such as Botswana, Nigeria, Kenya, and others who have not only enacted laws for the protection of creators/inventors, but are actually implementing their laws to the extent that the economic and cultural benefits are being realized in significant ways.
- Why does Liberia continue to allow the proliferation of illegal audio and audio visual products to be openly marketed throughout the nation while retaining its legitimate membership to WIPO and submitting to Treaties and Conventions pertaining to the protection and enhancement of IP (intellectual property) for the benefit of its citizens and the world?
- Why has intellectual property and the protection of the creative sector not been given a more prominent place on the National Agenda for development when the world is replete with examples of the cultural and economic benefits to be accrued for doing so?
In December 2017, with the generous assistance of WIPO, Liberia conducted the 2017 IPDP (intellectual property development plan) under the new Liberia Intellectual Property Act, 2016; the previous plan was done in 2009, and was also funded by WIPO. The 2017 IPDP was extensive, and was developed by technicians from Kenya, Botswana, Liberia, and WIPO. The plan was developed by first reviewing the previous 2009 IPDP, conducting on-site visitations with key stakeholders in higher education, law, manufacturing, agriculture, and stakeholders from the Collective Societies; the literary and artistic communities. The exercise was met and welcomed with much enthusiasm and high expectations that coupled with a new IP law, the 2017 IPDP would finally bring Liberia into the comity of nations with functioning IP regimes with enabling environments for the creative sector.
Despite all of the positive initiatives for the enhancement of IP in Liberia, numerous workshops over the years and visitations by renown foreign experts, the newly established Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO) that was established by the new law, has been dealt a serious setback that is tantamount to a dismantling of the entity; the administrative leadership at LIPO that was appointed based on specific mandates in the law with regard to qualifications, credentials and experience, has been replaced by individuals who do not possess the requisite credentials, experience, or capacity to grow this Agency that is still in its infancy, and was poised to bring critically needed change to the Literary and artistic communities.
As the current SURGE in music and entertainment continues to be challenged, creators should be cognizant that the most effective repellents at their immediate disposal are creativity and collectivism. The creative spirit cannot be muffled or silenced, and collectivism gives relevance and potency to the “singular” cries for a more prominent place on the National Agenda. We must continue to remain productive as individual creators/artists, while at the same time developing a “singular voice” in claiming our rightful place in the socio economic space in Liberia; our future depends on this.
Ernie Bruce (B.M., M.M.)
Piso Enterprises, Inc.