Anti-Piracy and Intellectual Property Enforcement: Unlocking Growth and Innovation Across Africa

This blog can be attributed to Mesay Lulsegged, Assistant Vice President – African Affairs, AT&T.

The Gates Foundation reported that economic stimulus funding as a percent of GDP is around 22 percent in G-20 countries, and only around 3 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.[1] As economic headwinds intensify and tax revenues decline, African policy makers with increasingly tight budgets will need alternative solutions for economic stimulus and job creation.

Creating jobs is, and should be, a top priority for many African countries seeking to capitalize on young talent found nowhere else in the world. And while there is a near universal focus on ICT and manufacturing to aid job creation, entertainment and media (E&M) is often overlooked despite the vast potential the industry presents. The value chain – from creators, publishers, producers, theaters, marketers, equipment manufacturers, distributors, and distribution platforms – offers a vast ecosystem for creating jobs, growing wealth, expanding the tax base and stimulating the economy.

However, the ecosystem cannot thrive without robust enforcement of anti-piracy and intellectual property (IP) protections. Theft of transmission signals, pirated DVDs, covertly downloaded films, and the like, take money away from creators and suppress jobs, often while supporting criminal cartels who extract untaxed money from circulation. This piracy is not restricted to distantly created content – it is undeniably detrimental to the growth of local creative and content industries across Africa.

For example, Nigeria’s E&M industry, which includes Nollywood, the world’s second most prolific after India,’s Bollywood, is projected to generate US $5 billion in 2021 with a leading 12% CAGR.[2] With over a million workers, the industry has capitalized on Africa’s rising young talent and paved the way for aspiring producers and actors. However, piracy and IP theft contribute to annual losses exceeding USD$2 billion.[3] The Director-General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, Josh Asien, recently cautioned  “if you go to Ghana, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Nigerian films are being treated the way we treated American films.”[4] He further disclosed that piracy is wide-ranging impacting authors like Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and former Presidents like Olusegun Obasanjo. So, while the industry can ramp up its contribution quickly, it requires well applied and appropriate policy in order to thrive.

While policy creation is challenging, nothing is more efficient than a free policy tool – enforcing existing national anti-piracy laws and IP protections. Developing economies across the globe who have focused on IP enforcement have realized far reaching benefits in multiple sectors including ICT and the E&M arena. A report published by the OECD shows that “in more advanced developing countries, there is evidence that the stronger IP rights protection implemented in recent decades has tended to be associated with significantly larger inflows of FDI, imports and technology, as well as increased domestic innovation.” Specifically, in a case study of Bangladesh, the OECD found that a 1% increase in the protection of IP protections was associated with a 2.8% increase in the inflow of foreign direct investment; and on average a 0.7% increase in the domestic level of R&D.[5] A demonstrated culture of content protection fosters economic growth and attracts investment.

Protecting creative content has economic and cultural benefits. Africa’s cultural wealth – the languages, arts, music, history & diversity across nations – is a vast resource that can produce a thriving E&M sector. Yet Africa accounts for around 1% of global trade in cultural goods. [6] The contribution to GDP averages around 1% across African countries as well. Without policy intervention, developing countries may not be able to convert the abundance of talent into marketable products.[7] Addressing piracy and IP theft can boost these numbers to appropriately reflect and amplify their impact on the economy.

Amid the pandemic, a prominent counter argument may be that there are more important priorities than piracy and IP protection. However, economic recovery plans that incorporate enforcement of existing laws will have far reaching benefits by creating jobs, shifting money from the underground economy to expand government revenue, and stimulating adjacent sectors like ICT. Leaders in enforcement will also burnish their global reputation, which will be critical as investment and global trade rise in the post-COVID recovery. Reputation goes a long way in attracting domestic and international investment.

African countries who take a lead in this area will set the example and place themselves as the preferred destination for creatives that want to create and investors that want to distribute content across Africa. They will also be well positioned to take advantage of the benefits the African Continental Free Trade Area will unlock starting next year. Dr. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the ECA, said it best when she noted that, “While policymakers invest heavily in cybersecurity, which is important, significant investment is needed in the protection of innovation by ensuring the application of affordable harmonized IP laws across the continent.” [8] South Korea was poorer than several African countries 60 years ago but has applied IP policy strategically to drive innovation and become a leading economy today.[9] Enforcing anti-piracy and IP laws to fund the post-COVID recovery can unlock the next wave of innovation across the African continent. 










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