Thursday, March 12, 2015

Malawian Poets Struggle to Earn What is Theirs

For the Malawian artist, the completion of an art project - be it a mural, painting, portrait, or a poetry and music album - marks the onset of challenges - like a journey travelled half-way through.  This is because, in most cases, instead of jubilation, it is anger and longing for justice that follow, forming a gritty residue of frustration and helplessness. Not to mention a labyrinth of regrets, of course.  Take the issue of poets, for instance. For all their marshaling of words, their masterly at crinkling their lips into a smile or mourn after a masterful performance, and the tedious task of fixing their monocle-bare eyes onto the faces of the expectant members of the audience in the course of a live performance, they find it difficult to let their unified voice penetrate the concrete walls of the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma)'s mind, an institution that was supposed to play hen-mother to them.  
“Cosoma, which is supposed to protect all artists, has been refusing  to protect us. We have even been told that Cosoma can only protect the interests of musicians, and we feel this is not on,” says Felix  Njonjonjo Katsoka, Poetry Association of Malawi's president.   Katsoka says poets' call for consideration has not borne the desired fruits, merely passing over Cosoma officials' heads into the windy distance of nowhere.   Poets, he says, now feel that the institution that is key to protecting and safeguarding their works has become a  master of delivering poetic justice.   They also feel that they have been left at the mercy of unknown  devices. This, he says, has not impressed the poets because Cosoma, despite being armed to the tooth by the laws of the land, and despite having a vast fund of experience in planning and carrying out anti-piracy programmes, has been up to its, sometimes, snap judgments.   “We have tried to talk and reason with them on the need to protect our works to no avail. This is one of the reasons we have been calling for the institution of a Culture Policy. We, really, need a culture policy because, apart from looking at issues like these, artists in the country will benefit from government's funding, as is the case with sports associations under the Malawi National Council of Sports,” Katsoka says.  Katsoka says the poets cannot understand Cosoma's current stand as, by forming their own association instead of working in isolation, they had hoped that life through one voice was less constrictive than that of isolated minds.   Cosoma's offensiveness has, therefore, troubled the poets, he says. 

Given a chance, he enthuses, they would have liked to be behind the steering wheel in safeguarding the intellectual property rights of poets, goading the fight against those who reap where they did not sow. As it is, they can only sit stiffly, and fume.   For the time being, however, now that their belief that Cosoma was there to protect musicians, poets and all the other categories of artists have been defeated; the poets will have to fend for themselves.   As reality would have it, however, Cosoma is not without reasons.  Responding to the concern in a written response, Cosoma's senior licensing officer, Rosario Kamanga, says, “It's difficult for me to understand what is meant by Cosoma ('s) refusal to offer royalties to poets” as protection hinges on proof of exploitation.   Said Kamanga: “What seems not to be appreciated is what royalties are. Royalties are, by their nature, given to individuals or rights holder associations whose works have been exploited and in their case their works need to be reproduced through photocopying, downloads or similar reproductions.   “Currently, the (poetry) association is already benefitting from a grant provided by the Royal Norwegian embassy through the cultural support Scheme and, should it be established that their works are being exploited through some of the means outlined above, then, the association is bound to benefit from royalties corresponding to the degree of exploitation.”   Film Association of Malawi vice-president, Ezaius Mkandawire, says his association also has problems with Cosoma, especially when it comes to getting intellectual property owners paid.   Mkandawire says, while Cosoma has been providing holograms on DVD films, protecting the owner of the art work goes beyond the provision of protection on DVD sales.   “We are looking at protecting the interest of all filmmakers including  those that make development films purposes for instance. These films get used on television however MBC asks for exorbitant fees before telecast. The correct way was that MBC needed to be paying for such uses,” Mkandawire says, adding:   “Cosoma has not done anything in making sure that owners of the work get paid their dues. The film Association of Malawi is, however, planning a stakeholders' meeting where, among other things, there should be a discussion to map the way forward regarding such issues. I am sure it is only here in Malawi where products on television which is run on tax-payers money get to be used for free by the nation while production houses pay tax in creating the works.”   Mkandawire says there is need to put in place strategies aimed at protecting the interests of all filmmakers, including those that make development films purposes for instance.   “These films get used on television. However, MBC charges exorbitant fees before telecast. The correct way was that MBC needed to be paying for such uses (but it doesn't),” Mkandawire says.   Book Publishers Association of Malawi executive director, Andrew Chisamba, says all original works were, “in principle”, entitled to protection.   However, Chisamba adds that, for such protection to be extended to works of art, art work owners are obliged to fulfill some obligations.   “For example, the originator of the work is supposed to deposit an original copy with Cosoma so that you may be protected. Cosoma also provides security features such as holograms on DVDs, music  (products); so, may be the poets don't buy holograms,” Chisamba says.   Adds Chisamba: “But, in principle, Cosoma has no limitations when it comes to protecting intellectual property and I don't see the reason why they would not want to protect the poets when they produce original work.”   In the end, however, looking at the poets and Cosoma's responses, it is clear that Cosoma and poets are merely swapping punches in the presence of the enemy - violators of intellectual property rights - to the advantage of the common enemy, but without working out any plan that is visionary.   While poets want Cosoma to state what its plans - and not views - are, when it comes to protection issues, it's only views that are coming out.   The warped logic of it all makes Katsoka laugh. The forced laughter of a man struggling to be impressed and happy!  The laughter fashioned by a sad mind. It is all because, for the time being, seeking Cosoma's protective hand is like looking for a needle in a haystack!

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