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May 07 2018

Arterial Networks Interviews ARIPO Director General Fernando dos Santos

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ARIPO (African Regional Intellectual Property Organization) and Arterial Network signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the cooperation in the area of copyright and related rights on 2 May, 2018 at the ARIPO Headquarters in Harare. Find out more about ARIPO in this interview with Mr Fernando Dos Santos, Director General of the Organization.

Arterial Network : Can you tell us more about ARIPO ?

Mr Fernando Dos Santos : The ARIPO is an inter-governmental organization that was established in 1976 with the objective of harnessing resources in the African continent to support the development of the intellectual property system.

ARIPO currently has 19 members states from southern Africa, Eastern Africa, and West Africa. We work primarily in the harmonization of policies, strategies, legislation, procedures in terms of administration of the  Intellectual Property Rights. In our activities we have very important areas like the protection of intellectual property rights, which is done through registration of copyrights. 

Back in 2002 we started promoting the development of the copyright system on the continent. We also support production and management organizations in efficiently managing their collective rights. ARIPO strives to raise awareness and help the continent in meeting the challenge of the accurate appreciation of intellectual property in our economies through the organization of conferences, seminars and workshops. In addtion, we work in areas like capacity building, with the "ARIPO Academy", that organizes a number of training activities for executives and various stakeholders, in different areas of intellectual property. Most importantly, we have a Master in Intellectual Property Programme, organized jointly with the World Intellectual Property organization and the Africa University. This Programme was initiated in 2008 and we are now in our 10th edition this year with 251 graduates from 26 differents countries in Africa, as the Master degree programme is not restricted to member states only.


Arterial Network : What are some of the challenges that artists face in the continent and how does ARIPO support them ?

FDS : They are so many challenges currently; Africa is a continent that should have competitive advantage in terms of creative industry because the continent is rich with traditional art and cultural expressions, but unfortunately we are not leveraging from all that potential. As you will notice, although we have so many talented people, most of them are not rich and sometimes not event able to support themselves and their families properly.

The real problem is that we are not using the intellectual property system to value what they are doing. African do great work, but there is a need for reward, and the only way to reward art works is by using the copyright system. It’s most specifically by having systems established that we allow the artists to harnest from the product of their work. One of the intellectual property systems we developed is the collective management society that dedicated to artists. I believe one of the biggest challenges, is making the artists conscient of the value of their work, and the need to protect it by using the systems that we put into place. Apart from ARIPO's initiative, there is a need for specific national policies and legislation for a more comprehensive use of these instruments by African artists.


Arterial Network : What challenges do you face in your activities ?

FDS : Concerning the area of copyright, the absence of harmonized systems on the continent is a big challenge. In some countries there is a legislation that is very well advanced, but in most cases legislation is not up-to-date. National policies from governments to create mecanisms that support artists are also very important, however, the artists themselves need to be organized, they need to have platforms, forums, where they can channel their issues in a very organized way and come up with potential solutions.

Unfortunately, the issue of awareness from the same artists sometimes is a challenge, therefore they are not responding in the right way to fix intellectual property infrigements. With so much difficulties to have their work respected, artists need to come out with systems and work in collaboration with the governments and international organizations; together, they can design mecanisms to protect their rights. We all know the huge issues related to piracy and counterfeiting, which are not exclusive to Africa, piracy and counterfeiting represent 4% to 5% of the world GDP, so it’s a huge problem that cannot be tackled by artists nor by governments alone, only a collaboration and partnership with all the stakeholders can help fixing the issue for good.


Arterial Network : Does ARIPO also cover French-speaking African countries ?

FDS : ARIPO only works with the English-speaking part of Africa. We collaborate with OAPI (African Intellectual Property Organization) which is the organization managing Intellectual Property Rights for the French-speaking African countries. We have annual meetings where we discuss issues of mutual interest, including copyright.


Arterial Network : Are all disciplines equal regarding copyright or are there specific challenges for some artistic genres ?

FDS : The issue is for each country to set they own priorities regarding intellectual property rights. For example, we know some countries have more propensity in music; in such case, the government must adapt national development plans accordingly and adopt policies that strenghten the music industry. We also have countries with a vibrant audiovisual industry, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Burkina Faso for instance. Such countries would benefit from focusing on these areas. On the other hand, we have some countries with a tradition of sculpture and tribes well known for their prowess; the governements need to take measures in order to promote, protect and uplift those specific areas.

There is also a new discussion happening right now regarding intellectual property in the works of painters especially, with the « Droit de suite »  where unknown artists would sell their art a very low prices that would later on turn into millions of dollars when the artist becomes famou. In this example the art work was already sold let’s say at 10 dollars, but the buyer of the work possibly can now sell it for 2 million dollars while the artist will no longer get any benefit on future sales. A specific Intellectual Property discipline is dedicated to such cases in order to allow artists to add value to all of their work in the long term. I cannot say that some disciplines are disadvantaged in comparison with others because it’s all relative. However, governments have to take the rights policies to address such concerns.


Arterial Network : What’s ARIPO take on the cultural appropriation of African traditional heritage like the Masai blanket produced industrially outside of the continent as an example ? And how does the organization tackle these issues ?

FDS : To help face these issues, ARIPO has put into place the Swakopmund Protocol which was adopted in 2010 and entered into force in 2015. Only 9 countries out of the 19 members ratified the protocol. The Swakopmund Protocol aims specially at adressing issues related to traditional knowledge and traditional cultures. This is the legal response that we gave to all those issues. The first step into solving cultural appropriation issues should be for the countries to join the Protocol and build on the basis of this legal framework that would facilitate the protection. Joining the Protocol is not enough, the countries will also need to come up with laws on their own to support and protect tradition knowledge.

However, the Intellectual Property System's purpose is not to hide what we have but to open-up and protect at the same time. Whe we talk about protection, we are not saying that we have to create barriers to access our knowledge. We think African knowledge should benefit humanity, while protecting and leveraging from our specificities. The spirit of the Swakopmund Protocol is that if someone wants to have access to our knowledge, access is given but within a framework that allow the community to also benefit from the returns.


Arterial Network : What is the vision behind this MOU Agreement with Arterial Network ?

FDS : ARIPO is one of the key players in the development of Intellectual Property on the continent and an inter-governmental organizatio, so for us any stakeholder that is interested in the development of Intellectual Property on the continent is a key partner. In the creative industry sector, governmental institutions, international organizations, and all existing netwoks are for us very important to advance this common cause and helping the creative sector benefit the continent.  We were able to come together with Arterial Network and realize that we both share common interests in advocacy to advance the rights of artists and in capacity building and wareness creation regarding Intellectual Property rights. We are very interested in reaching out more and more people who can benefit from the Intellectual Property system. 


Arterial Network : What are your hopes for this partnership with Arterial Network ?

FDS : We would like to see the creative industry growing in Africa. We know that in some countries, the creative industries is contributing around 4% or 5 % to the GDP and that’s a huge number. If we do more, most countries could have those numbers growing. We would like to see more artists from different countries organize and talk together. We are also very interested in seeing more researches on the African Cultural Sector, more publications and more informations flowing. These are key areas where ARIPO and Arterial Network can work together.

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