Still reeling from the pangs of piracy

As the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) Annual General Meeting (AGM) got underway in Blantyre at the Grace Bandawe Conference Centre on Wednesday, the feeling among many artists present was that of hopelessness and helplessness.

They still cannot reap enough from their toil as schemers on the market continue to dupe them by pirating their intellectual property in the process diminishing their potential for growth as artists. It is a battle which has gone on forever. And despite numerous interventions it continues to get worse.

The other underlying factor is that technology seems to be ahead in terms of all the efforts that are being invested to counter this vice. Devices such as memory sticks, memory cards and phones seem have compounded the problem by providing an easy medium.

In my side chat with musician Diwa Khwiliro, he almost sounded as if he had resigned to the fate. He feels if nothing drastic is done then there will still be nothing for artists.

“It is really hard to lay a finger of blame on anyone. Bodies like Cosoma and Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) are doing their part but ours is a battle against technology which we cannot win. Even in the advanced world like USA, the problem of piracy is there,” he said.

Cosoma, together with the help of other law enforcing agents, have intensified their crackdown on pirates. This year several convictions and subsequent fines have been made at the courts and duplication devices such as computers have been seized from the perpetrators.

The most outstanding conviction and fine being the K3.4 million melted out to one Bentry Mwaungulu who was caught in Lilongwe together with his employee. The sum may appear deterrent indeed but the question is the same; is this enough?

Here is a vice which takes place in tiny spaces which are very hard to penetrate and some even impossible. As tiny as the places may seem, the damage which they are inflicting on people’s intellectual property and artistic dreams is massive. And they cannot be let free to their devices.

Khwiliro has his own thoughts: “Maybe it is time we considered introducing tax levies on these devices. Let the artistic bodies work with the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to be collecting tax on all this equipment so it can in turn be directed to a consolidated arts fund.”

The fight has almost become a moral issue. There is an indirect admission that with all these efforts in sight it is still the onus of those behind the vice to feel it upon themselves whether they have to go on reaping where they did not sow or stop.

And then there is the issue of royalties for dead artists. I am yet to hear and verify any information that a dead artists next of kin has received royalties on behalf of the dead artist. It makes one wonder if the industry at all has mechanism that protects the intellectual property od artists who can longer be here to fight for themselves.

One can actually appreciate the fact that if one can fail to get their royalties while alive, what more when their are dead? This is clearly a sad situation for artists in Malawi.

In other countries, we hear of siblings and family members benefitting from the works of their relation long after the artist is gone because these countries have systems in place that has the welfare of artists at heart.

Here you find radio stations playing music of dead artists intensively witohout remitting a single penny to Cosoma in terms of royalties.

And the sad part is in all these challenges nothing seem to change. There is just a dead silence. This silence is so defeaning that it makes one wonder why artists still go ahead to poduce more material. Perhaps it is just for the love of the art. Otherwise the situation in Malawi is beyond sad.

That silent tone gives out the clear magnitude of the problem and how sorry the state of the artists in Malawi is. Will it require a death sentence to stop the malaise? Only time will tell.  n


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