ARTS: When it is easy, all have the right to copy
IN OUR data-engorged world, there is a glut of content which many cheerfully copy, reproduce and share with impunity. But be it using an image of The Spear, photocopying workbooks to give to Limpopo pupils or staging a school concert, there are intellectual property rights to be considered. It's an uphill battle to get individuals and businesses to pay for what they use without coming across as a dinosaur that's out of touch with current patterns of content usage, says Nothando Migogo, MD of the Dramatic, Artistic and Literary Rights Organisation (Dalro).
That's why this copyright administration society, a subsidiary of the Southern African Music Rights Organisation, has had to move swiftly with its parent body into the 21st century.
"Part of Dalro's new strategy is to be a copyright asset manager, and not only a collecting society. We're now highlighting the proactive element of what we do," Migogo says. This entails not just "passively" collecting licensing fees and paying royalties to rights holders such as authors and publishers, but actively extracting the maximum potential from creative "assets" by making them more accessible through, for example, the digital sphere: "Being a copyright asset manager is about bringing user and rights holder closer together," she says.
Traditionally, Dalro has administered theatrical rights, as well as reprographic reproduction rights (including licensing universities to photocopy extracts of published literary editions) and, to a lesser extent, the publishing and copying of visual art works. But Dalro's small but hands-on staff is now expanding its bouquet of services while marching decisively into the digital era.
This year the organisation has begun shifting its sights to the corporate sector, starting with bringing the local media-monitoring sector in line with international copyright compliance standards. Press clipping agencies had previously, intentionally or not, infringed on copyright by reproducing published articles to distribute to clients, she says, but Dalro has been mandated by publishers to license media monitors after several months of talks.
"Even when we're licensing universities, there's often an expectation that course packs should be for free. So yes, resistance is expected. But our approach is to make licensing news content online as easy as possible. People don't comply not because they're sinister or " - she throws her hands up in mock horror - "evil, but some simply don't know Dalro."
An organisation or business, for example, may want to make copies of an article on a website but not have the foggiest idea who to approach to get permission. For that reason, she says, "we want to develop a button that says 'License this' next to the tweets and the shares on each article, so you can license it online at the source of the content".
In an era characterised by the uninhibited and prolific sharing of information, it's a difficult area to regulate, she acknowledges. The rights of the copyright holder have to be balanced with those of the information-obsessed user who "wants everything, wants it now and wants to do whatever they want with it".
"We can't swim against the tide and be in denial; we can't lock up content. That's not the way the world is going; we can't be on our own little island. But it's also important, in principle, legally and morally, to protect the rights holder, who deserves to be compensated for his or her labour." And finding that happy medium is not easy.
Dalro's new cyber focus will soon see the creation of an eduportal, a digital platform giving school pupils access to textbooks via an online library.
With Dalro having licensed theatrical performance rights since its formation in 1967, Migogo says this aspect of the business tends to be "less of a grudge purchase" than, for instance, making a photocopy of a book.
Dalro has a bulging repertoire of local and international dramatic and musical works, and has just secured the sole mandate to license Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals to schools, universities and amateur dramatic societies in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Botswana, Mauritius, Lesotho and Swaziland. This means local producers no longer need to liaise with the Really Useful Group in London to stage musicals from the prolific composer's catalogue such as The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Evita, Aspects of Love and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The organisation is also broadening its services to the visual arts community, helping artists extract maximum benefit when images of their works are reproduced, be it in the online domain or in catalogues, books and so on.
"It's now a core focus area for us," says Migogo, adding that Dalro represents the estates of artists such as Irma Stern and Pablo Picasso locally.
When it comes to arts education, Dalro offers regular masterclasses for school drama teachers in association with the Arts and Culture Trust (ACT). The partnership extends to the two R105000 performing arts scholarships offered annually, and Dalro sponsors ACT's annual lifetime achievement award for theatre, which last year went to industry veteran Mannie Manim. A bursary for postgraduate study in intellectual property is also up for grabs, to boost awareness of this aspect of law in South Africa, especially in the cultural sector.
A lawyer by training, Migogo previously worked in educational publishing and as a tax consultant at Deloitte. She loves her current job because "it marries my formal training with an area of life I enjoy. Music is my number one passion and I love the fact that my work lets me into that environment." But, she adds ruefully, she never seems to be able to escape the dreaded number crunching..
Every day she has to ponder the minutiae of copyright and intellectual property law, but it's a fast-moving and ever-changing space. "You can never think you're on top of it".
"Advances in technology mean people are consuming content in different ways. Those with an e-reader get it directly from the publisher or a website, and we have to find ways to keep up with that. It does keep it exciting, having that pressure."
Dalro is neither a policing nor an enforcement agency, although the audacity of illegal "copy shops" continues to astound her. "If people are not licensing, we need to encourage them to do so, but with the internet it's very, very difficult."
It's also not easy for authors, playwrights, artists and publishers, as well as licensees, to adapt to a public space where copyright is often blatantly disregarded. Piracy is not just plaguing the music industry - the literary and publishing industry is also experiencing it "on a grand scale".
This is where education on the value of copyright, original content and the right of the creator to earn a livelihood will become crucial.
"My daughter, who's nine, was working on a project and said to me: 'We can't just print off the articles from internet, because of copyright. We have to look at the different articles and come up with our own way of saying it.' I was like, 'Yes, that's my girl!'"
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