Multichoice Ethiopia, in collaboration with the Addis Abeba University College of Fine Arts & Design, and the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Authority, organised a workshop last week to discuss and shed light on the issue of piracy and the effects it has on the country's fledging film industry.

Held at the Sheraton Hotel on June 30, 2022, the "Partners Against Piracy" (PAP) workshop saw the attendance of over 70 film experts, artists, film students, and government officials.

Tadios Getachew (PhD), head of the Ale School of Fine Arts & Design, led the discussions along with Beza Nigusse, a lecturer of intellectual property law at the School, Nasir Nuru, head of the Authority, and Henok Ayale, a renowned author, director, and producer.

The workshop looked to create awareness of the piracy problem plaguing the film industry, forge strong and lasting bonds between industry players to combat the issue, and encourage filmmakers to thrive.

The illuminating workshop began with a speech from Nasir on the importance of discussions in fighting piracy, and an overview of the film industry's contribution to the overall economic development of the country, and its prospects going forward. Panelists argued the industry needs encouragement and support from the government and the public to live up to its potential.

Among the foremost challenges it faces is the illegal distribution of films. This is despite intellectual property laws passed first in 1952, and later amended in 2014, entailing harsh punishments and designating piracy as a serious criminal offense. Those found guilty of violating the laws could face large penalties, lawsuits, or even five to 10 years of imprisonment.

Nonetheless, it was noted that intellectual property rights have been difficult to protect as they are an intangible asset, and piracy remains a pressing problem for film, and, by extension, entertainment and the creative arts as a whole.

The issue of piracy has affected not only the economic viability of the film industry, but the morale and enthusiasm of creators. Neither is the problem a new one.

The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Authority, formerly the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office, was established in 1995 as a response to widespread piracy and infringement on copyrights. The Authority's mandate, according to Nasir, is to collect patent information; to study, interpret, and recommend rules and regulation ideas; create public awareness on intellectual property rights; protect rights and collaborate with law enforcement agencies to enforce the laws.

Piracy has become more embedded and common with the advent of the internet and social media. It has more or less been accepted as the new normal, as people enjoy almost instant access to films or music at their fingertips. There are countless sites online filled with pirated copies of films and television shows – free.

Henok has observed the change, and says people now focus more on the availability of films rather than what it took to produce them.

"Due to the rise of piracy, the cost of production doesn't match the income," he said. "Therefore, budgets for upcoming movies will drop, leading to a drop in quality."

His observations reflect the cyclical effects of piracy on the film industry. Henok wrapped up the workshop with an analogy, where he compared filmmakers to farmers, and their films to farms and farm products.

"A farmer spends all their time working on their farm only to have their crops stolen during the harvest season," he said.

His views were reflected in other attendants at the workshop. The panel has called for improved collaboration between the industry, the government, and the public to combat piracy and provide a comfortable environment for filmmakers to thrive.

Workshop participants and the panel were also in agreement over potential long-term solutions to fight piracy. These include the establishment of an intellectual property academy, and the preparation of a national policy on intellectual property.

Multichoice Ethiopia Plc, the sole distributor for DStv is committed to protecting intellectual property rights and providing filmmakers the space to grow and thrive. Multichoice has been in the Ethiopian market for over two decades, pioneering the concept of pay-TV in the country. It has since grown tremendously, able to offer clients simple and affordable deals to watch their favourite movies, sports programmes (including the Ethiopian Premier League on SuperSport), shows, and news channels at low rates.

Last year, Multichoice launched Abol TV, purely an entertainment channel. Its content is created based on the criteria, guidelines, and standards set by the production wing of DStv, M-Net. Multichoice is working with more than 30 producers to create new content in a way that upholds and protects intellectual property rights.

Based in South Africa, Multichoice operates in 50 African countries.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 04,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1158]

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