Copyright : a lifeline to the Zimbabwe book industry

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Copyright law may not be the most glamourous topic in the arts but ask any published author about it and you begin to understand its importance. In 2014, UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) worked with government and civil society to protect authors in Zimbabwe. For World Book and Copyright Day 2017, we revisit that project.

“In the book sector, the illegal activities of book pirates have taken more than 50% of the market share of the legitimate publishing business, which led authors to simply not feel like writing books anymore, something that threatens the viability of the book sector altogether, said then-Executive Director of ZIMCOPY in 2014, at the beginning of an IFCD project. This bleak outlook about the state of the Zimbabwe publishing industry has since seen great improvements, in part thanks to the project.

Zimbabwe has a prolific literature scene. Home to one of the most prestigious book fairs on the continent, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, its authors are also praised by the organizers of the Caine Prize for African Writing for the high number of quality entries. Many Zimbabwean authors have emerged over the past decade. Recent success stories include NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names or Bryony Rheam’s This September Sun which stimulated an interest in local literature.

The worry that many of the upcoming authors could not fully financially live from their art due to piracy, motivated ZIMCOPY to apply for funding from the IFCD in 2014 to tackle the problem. ZIMCOPY is a non-governmental organization which wanted to bring civil society, academics, government and authors together to come up with a strategy.

This is exactly the sort of project that the IFCD supports, as it aimed to shore up a facet of Zimbabwe’s cultural industry to ensure long term results. As a major operational branch of the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the IFCD aims to strengthen cultural and creative industries in the developing countries.

Reaping the benefits

Three years on, the strategy is paying off. Work is underway to reinforce the current Copyright Act, as well as draft an intellectual property policy. These are not insignificant achievements, given the patchy understanding of copyright by users at the beginning of the process, says Samuel Makore, current Executive Director of ZIMCOPY.

He says that one of the major challenges now is ensuring that the laws are enforced. For example, says Makore, piracy of hard copies of texts in educational institutions is one of the major issues, as is the challenges of digital formats.  The recently-created Ministry for Culture is aware of the complexities around copyright and ZIMCOPY continues to work with the Ministry of Culture, as well as the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education, on this issue.

For now, it is complicated to show statistically that the IFCD project has led to more authors publishing in Zimbabwe, but continued dialogue about copyright and the 2005 Convention remains a legacy of the project.  

“One of the main benefits of the International Fund for Cultural Diversity project was that it brought civil society together,” says Samuel Makore. ZIMCOPY, along with the four other authors’ associations of Zimbabwe, has vowed to continue to working together on this issue so that authors are not discouraged from unleash their creativity, enriching the public discourse and delighting their readers.