Liberia: Copyright Regime, 3 Years On

When the Copyright Society of Liberia (COSOL) was created in 2019, the government did so on purpose — to set up a system that could safeguard the economic rights of copyright holders across the country.

But there was a problem. At birth, COSOL lacked well-established administrative and regulatory frameworks to carry out its primary responsibilities, defending the financial interests of copyright holders.

And so, dedicating the next two years to such a cause was more than necessary. It would allow COSOL to have the administrative and legal power to administer certain copyright rights while obtaining a fair economic return for the work they managed through an affordable licensing system.

“To become a thriving, and profitable business, we saw the problem as an opportunity. So we tackled it one at a time,” COSOL Executive Director, Atty. Prince Decker disclosed. “Therefore, we were not wrong to prioritize the issues of the appropriate legal and administrative framework since the copyright-based industry cannot operate in the absence of such.”

“Since then, We have created and tested the effectiveness of these legal frameworks. This development lays the groundwork for the collection of fairer remuneration for creators. Our legal frameworks target both digital and physical space and there would not be any safe harbor for illegal use.”

COSOL, in a system of collective rights administration, would not have been able to license the use of the rights they manage; monitor the use to enforce the conditions upon which the license has been granted; and collect and distribute the royalties payable as a result of the licensed use if he appropriates legal and administrative frameworks were not develop.

Chief among the many frameworks are license, distribution, and membership. They gave COSOL the power to administer the process of rights clearance on behalf of its members through an efficient and cost-effective “one-stop” licensing system.

This is so since COSOL is legally bound to firstly seek authorization before managing any copyrighted works. That assignment then gives COSOL the right to offer blanket licenses to prospective rights — allowing the use of its acquired repertoire, and in some instances advance payments of royalties or other forms of remuneration ( the fees payable in respect of private copying, for example).

“At COSOL, we fervently believe that creators’ rights are a fundamental human right. And after two years of hard work, we are about to reap the benefits going forward,” Decker said. “At present, we are issuing licenses for creativity for the first time in the history of this country. For now, we target those involved in the marketing and distribution of audio-visual works in the Liberian market.

“I can safely say, this is our first royalty collection move but for now, it is not done at the largest scale. The fees collected are distributed to members according to the distribution framework. It is an agreement between COSOL and the membership to ensure they are fair, efficient, accurate, and transparent.”

And COSOL’s quick success in developing the appropriate administrative and legal framework is something many Collective Management Organizations in Africa highly achieved in three years.

It shows that COSOL, a government-owned agency, established under the administration of President George Weah is operating within an international framework that enables them to represent its members at home and abroad.

Such development has also led to the creation of an international standardized system for the identification and description of the repertoire since CMOs nowadays operate through an increasingly comprehensive and sophisticated data network.

More importantly, this system guarantees the fair collection and distribution of license remuneration

“This indicates that we are keenly aware of our members’ needs and are working assiduously to protect their rights, sustain their income and maintain the highest levels of integrity and professionalism,” Decker added. “We’re making very good progress to achieve those objectives, however, we are aware that there is much more to do, especially in the digital world where, despite the vast revenues being made by commercial users of creative works, most creators are not fairly rewarded for their work.”

Additionally, COSOL has during these three years undertaken a number of other functions on behalf of its members in addition to its supervisory role in relation to the licenses “they grant and monitoring the uses made of the works entrusted to their care.”

Some of these responsibilities include giving legal assistance to copyright owners, resolving conflicts, and cooperating with the Ministry of Commerce and the Liberia Intellectual Property Office to prevent unauthorized use of the works they are in charge of.

It also involves playing an active role in the nation’s fight against piracy, helping to investigate violations, protecting members’ rights when required, and filing lawsuits when necessary to halt unlawful use of their members’ works.

Again, providing this collective anti-piracy support is crucial to the interests of rights holders for whom the expense of taking individual legal action against infringers would be prohibitive.

“The role of COSOL has in the last two years has evolved in other ways as well so that nowadays we undertake additional tasks which are not directly connected with the administration of rights but which have a more general (but no less important) cultural or social purpose.

“All of this additional activity is informed by COSOL understanding of the practicalities and challenges of authors’ rights/copyright administration acquired through their day-to-day licensing activities. COSOL also organizes regular technical and legal cooperation among members to assist in the constant fight against piracy.

As things stand, COSOL is concentrating on other anti-piracy initiatives, such as the introduction of technological protection measures (TPMs) to assist members in managing their rights on an individual basis.

When introduced, TPMS would allow rights holders to utilize encryption technology to copyright works so that they could only be used with their express consent.

Finally, COSOL has adopted Codes of Conduct that set out the service standards that members and users can expect from them and provide for complaints procedures. These correspond to and meet the requirements established for authors’ societies under CISAC’s Professional Rules and Binding Resolutions, which establish best practices in the area of collective management. “These activities include the provision of social and legal support services to right owners; educational and public relations activities aimed at ensuring a better understanding of and respect for authors’ rights/copyright by the general public; and representation of their members’ interests with national governments and in relation to intergovernmental bodies responsible for authors’ rights/copyright such as WIPO,” Decker said.

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