Common Law, Conventions and Contemporary African Copyright Law
The development of modern copyright law in Africa is largely a late 20th and early 21st century phenomenon with the respective bodies of law drawing from colonial common law, international treaties and conventions, or local statutes. Kenya and South Africa, for instance, have their operative copyright laws heavily entrenched in English common law and 19th century statutes. Both countries’ copyright laws were modeled from the United Kingdom Copyright Act 1842 (5 & 6 Vict. c. 45), the United Kingdom Copyright Act 1911 and the United Kingdom Copyright Act 1956. These statutes were applied together with the English common law and by virtue of various reception clauses took effect during British colonial rule.
Equally important for many African countries is the revised Bangui Agreement, which took effect in 2002 and governs the member countries of the African Intellectual Property Organization (namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central Africa, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad, and Togo). Articles 8 and 10 of Annex VII of the Bangui Agreement provide for a rather liberal list of moral rights (strongly emphasizing the Agreement’s origins in traditional French copyright law), while Article 9 sets forth a similarly long list of economic rights, including rental rights.
The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works( effective 1887) is the oldest and arguably the most important multilateral copyright treaty.Most African countries today are members of either the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention (effective 1952) or, in some instances, both. Under the Berne Convention, copyright exists automatically as soon as a work has been “fixed” in a written, recorded, or other tangible medium, without the requirement to first register or formally declare or assert a copyright. Most importantly, Berne provides reciprocal rights to a copyright owner in a signatory country in all other Berne signatory countries (currently 168 countries throughout the world).
The Universal Copyright Convention, developed by UNESCO, was an alternate means towards multilateral copyright protection for those countries that disagreed with certain aspects of the Berne Convention. Since many African countries have more recently become members of the World Trade Organization and consequently the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (effective 1996), the Universal Copyright Convention has started to become less significant in Africa. Interestingly, Ethiopia and Burundi have signed no international or multi-lateral treaties but continue to maintain their own substantial bodies of copyright law. Burundi has Law No. 1/021 on the Protection of Copyright and Related Rights (effective 2005) and Ethiopia, in 2013, established the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office as an autonomous government body by Proclamation No. 320, which subsequently allowed for the enactment of the Ethiopian Copyright Proclamation No.410 (effective 2004). Other notable bodies of copyright law effective in African countries that also subscribe to certain international treaties and conventions include South Africa (with its Copyright Act 98 of 1978, as amended in 2002), Egypt (with its Book Three of the Law on the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights 82 of 2002 effective 2002) and Nigeria (with its Copyright Act, Cap C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria).