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Be warned, there’s no safe market for pirated content

By Patrick Mwai | June 26th 2021

One of the reasons cited for the entertainment industry’s struggles in Africa is runaway piracy. [Courtesy]

The last year has been a defining season for the movie theatre industry. Movie production giants are refocusing their business models to turn a profit as the pandemic cut footfall in theatres, owing to halt in travels and stringent pandemic containment measures. Many venues were also closed.

For many filmmakers, transitioning to video-on-demand platforms or launching streaming services has been the most convenient option. This has ensured businesses make money through subscriptions as they stream new releases to millions of viewers at home as opposed to movie tickets.

Only time will tell how the new business models in the film industry will deal with the ever-present danger of content piracy, especially in Africa. Despite the broad awareness of the negative consequences of piracy that when the target audience doesn’t pay, the artists go unrewarded. Quite often, they struggle to simply survive.

Revered actor Mzee Ojwang and former Mother-in-Law actress Wanade are just a few examples of Kenyan artists who went to their graves poor yet they created content that entertained millions of people. Piracy in Africa is among the worst globally. From music to movies to pay-TV content, entertainment companies are struggling to track the extend of the menace.

With increasing internet connectivity, once that pirated file is downloaded, it can be sold, disseminated or even streamed to millions of viewers without a trace.

But a lot can be learned from the entities that pirate if a recent ruling by a Seychelles court is any yardstick to fight the menace.

The Supreme Court of Seychelles found that cable and satellite firm, Intelvision TV, breached the law when broadcasting the 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) matches, violating the exclusive rights awarded to Multichoice Africa and their subsidiary SuperSport.

In the weeks leading up to the continental tournament, Intelvision TV advertised on Facebook that it was ‘exclusively’ covering the competition under its ‘Extravagance bouquet’ that cost pay-TV buyers roughly Sh5,200 or 790 Seychelles rupee a month.

Intelvision TV advertised for the bouquet fully knowing that Multichoice through SuperSport and Canal plus had the signed exclusive rights to broadcast the live matches of the continental clash.

By doing so, Seychelles apex court established that Intelvision TV contravened the law on copyright. Subsequent to the breach, the court directed that an audit of the firm’s books be carried out to establish the revenues earned from the infringement, which will be used to arrive at an appropriate amount to compensate Multichoice.

A lot can be learned from this case by entities that are going out of their way to protect content from pirates. One of the reasons cited for the entertainment industry’s struggles in Africa is runaway piracy.

Illegal streaming devices and websites are everywhere, starving thousands of artists and content creators of their livelihoods while stunting the growth of the creative industry.The ruling from the island nation also points to an increasing appreciation by firms and the governments about the danger posed by content piracy on the economy.

-The writer is an accountant in Nairobi.

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