/ 26 August 2022

South Africa needs a comprehensive, multifaceted strategy to curb the economic impact of piracy

Software Piracy Opens Doors For Hackers
The theft of content deprives creatives of a living and harms businesses and investor confidence

Africans create powerful creative content in, among others, the music, film, sports, gaming, publishing, broadcast and animation sectors. However, this wealth of content is jeopardised by the relentless scourge of piracy which robs creators and rights holders of their livelihoods and threatens the value and longevity of African content. 

Pirating occurs when an individual, who is not the copyright holder, copies content and resells it for a significantly lower price than what the copyright holder charges. Many preparators of piracy don’t realise the impact it has on content creators and the economy. 

According to Irdeto, a world leader in digital-platform cybersecurity, people in five major African territories made a total of about 17.4-million visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites between June and August 2021, with music, literature, video content and software websites receiving the most visits. 

The high rates of piracy, however, are not exclusive to the African continent. Digital video piracy costs the entertainment industry up to $71-billion every year, according to the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center – harming businesses and  destroying lives and livelihoods in an economy hard-hit by Covid. 

It is without question that piracy has negative effects on the economy and the ability of creative professionals to earn a living. Left unchecked, the theft of content can severely harm investor confidence and tax revenue and can also affect trade opportunities. 

Although not a silver bullet, one of the key strategies to curb the rise in piracy in South Africa is the careful refining of the Copyright Amendment Bill. 

Stalling the refining and passing of a bill that has the potential to preserve the livelihoods of South African content creators is of utmost concern.

The bill should not be passed in its current form. It should be discussed and significantly refined. The direct consequence of passing the bill in its current form would be the death of any reward for our creators and it would not remedy all the problems which arise from content theft.

However, as the rates of piracy increase, regional anti-piracy efforts have been ramped up with the creation of initiatives such as Partners Against Piracy (PAP). 

PAP is a collaboration between government agencies, law enforcement agencies, distributors, content creators and rights owners which seeks to inform and educate the public about the effects of piracy. Africa’s leading entertainment company MultiChoice has thrown its weight behind PAP. 

The PAP partnership has already yielded results – a joint operation between law-enforcement officers and content-piracy investigators nabbed a group for distributing episodes of the popular Showmax series The Wife earlier this year. 

Although this is a step in the right direction, advocacy efforts do not exist in a vacuum. There needs to be a multifaceted approach that recognises the role of the justice system in bringing perpetrators to book and of policymakers in refining the Copyright Amendment Bill.

Strong laws mean strong economies. We need to show other countries that we protect copyright in our creative industries so they feel confident to invest in our economy. That is why we need partners like the department of justice and correctional services; business; civil society and NGOs. We call on everyone with a stake in the war against piracy to join us.

To preserve African content, and have an environment that nurtures and protects creators, policymakers urgently need to facilitate a meaningful engagement that addresses the glaring weaknesses of the current law and consumers need to call out illegal activities. Let us not be the ones to destroy and undermine our own content.

Chola Makgamathe is the chairperson of the Copyright Coalition of South Africa.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.