Amid rampant copyright infringements and low public awareness, Ethiopia is mulling further enhancements to its application of existing intellectual property rights (IPR) protection laws, according to an official.
A member of the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Horn of Africa nation has promulgated laws and directives to protect copyrights, neighboring rights, patents, and trademarks since 2004.
The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) has been the sole government body tasked with overseeing and expanding these laws and regulations since it was established in 2003.
With the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Day on April 26, EIPO Director-General Ermias Yemanebirhan told Anadolu Agency that over the past two decades, Ethiopia has built an IPR protection system of laws and institutions that never existed before in its modern history.
These laws have “laid the foundation of the recognition, certification, and protection of all forms of intellectual property rights,” said Yemanebirhan, underlining that the EIPO is striving to become more than a registration agency for innovators.
“Accordingly, we’ve been providing technical support for a good number of certified innovators to help them translate their ideas into practice and add value to the economic, social, and cultural development of the country,” he said.
Until very recently, innovative ideas were condemned to remain on the shelves amid banks’ refusal to provide the finances they need to take off.
“But now, we’ve managed to put in place an idea financing loan scheme and banks have begun providing loans to innovators without requesting collateral,” said Yemanebirhan. “This will help Ethiopia progress in technological innovations.”
Another notable achievement, Yemanebirhan noted, was that musicians have “been granted copyrights for their work and are negotiating with broadcasters on royalty fees.”
Despite Ethiopia’s progress in IPR protection, some problems remain, including the continued violation of copyrights and related rights which has hit the arts in the country hard, Yemanebirhan said.
Writer Alemayehu Gelagay, who has 15 widely-sold books to his name, told Anadolu Agency that Ethiopian writers are facing the technologically-assisted theft of their creative works.
“We’re in a dark period. As soon as books are published, unknown people in Ethiopia and abroad post and sell the books in PDF format on the Internet,” he said.
This “growing culture of theft” has demotivated and bankrupt several writers and publishers, said the author, blaming the “moral decadence” of both those responsible and people who knowingly acquire pirated publications.
Implementing IPR laws requires a high standard of public morality, he asserted.
Violation of neighborhood rights
Benyam Werku, the head of the Ethiopian Theatre Professionals Association and board member of 17 creative rights groups, told Anadolu Agency that besides also being pirated and illegally downloaded online, films and recordings of plays are also shown illicitly at small uncertified inner-city cinemas.
Amid such violations, the Ethiopian film industry has been left in a “slow-motion regression,” he said.
According to Werku, the industry, which at one time produced some 200 pictures per year, is now down to just 15.
The extent of this culture of theft, along with the limited institutional capacity and inexperience of the EIPO and lack of unity among creative art associations has only contributed to the sluggish progress in IPR protection, Werku said.
“The associations of Ethiopia’s creative industry are beset by conflicting interests and have failed to form a unified approach in the protection of rights and sharing of royalty benefits,” he said.
He added that the industry needs more of a collective effort from all stakeholders to curb this growing problem.
Despite these obstacles, according to the EIPO’s Director-General Yemanebirhan, the government plans to continue applying and expanding these laws while raising public awareness and resolving other problems.