Faking It: Why African Governments Won’t Enforce Intellectual Property Rights

Faking It: Why African Governments Won’t Enforce Intellectual Property Rights

From TheAfricaReport. Story by Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean intellectual property lawyer and novelist.

In Europe, it’s fake handbags. In Africa, it’s counterfeit everything: electronics and software; shoes and perfumes; films and music; books, phones and watches.

Youths in almost every African capital are dabbling in the pirated goods business. Only the Bible and the Koran are immune to piracy.

In Harare last year I chatted with a man cheerfully hawking pirated music.

“That’s quite the business model you have,” I teased him. “No rent, no electricity, no overheads of any kind. You don’t even have to pay the artists who worked hard to make what you are selling.”

He said, “Don’t worry sister, we do not pirate our own. We only sell foreigners here.”

I am not sure that local musicians would agree. Every year I teach international trade law students in Arusha, and I am amused to see them sport an array of fake products.

My explanations of the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the laws of their own countries on trademarks, patents and copyright have little practical effect.

The International Anti Counterfeiting Coalition estimates that the cross-border trade in counterfeit products will have a value of $1.8 trillion in 2015.

Africans are the end users and the middlemen in the trade. They are not – local music and DVDs aside – usually the creators.

African governments lack the political will to enforce intellectual property (IP) rights. Under WTO rules, member governments are obliged to prosecute counterfeiters and pirates.

Many African governments see street trading, despite periodic police crackdowns, as a way to absorb the rising numbers of unemployed youths in the continent’s fast-growing cities.

It also comes down to consumer power and the economics of supply and demand. Intellectual property rights are generally enforced only where there is an economic benefit from their enforcement.

Read more at TheAfricaReport.