Leveraging Malawi’s creative talent

June 2017

By Catherine Jewell, Communications Division, WIPO

Malawi’s Lake of Stars Music Festival, inspired by events like WOMAD and Glastonbury, gives a hint of the dynamism of Malawi’s cultural scene and its economic potential. In 2015, the festival attracted 79 Malawian acts and generated nearly USD 1.5 million.

Recognizing its huge potential, the Government of Malawi is galvanizing efforts to support the growth of the country’s creative sector. And with good reason.

Malawi’s creative sector contributes around 3.4 percent to the
country’s GDP and plays a significant role in terms of creating
employment and generating foreign exchange
(photo: Simon Rawles/Alamy Stock Photo).

A 2013 WIPO study estimated that Malawi’s creative sector contributes around 3.4 percent to the country’s GDP, highlighting its importance and significant growth potential. On the strength of these findings national decision-makers are actively supporting efforts to build the nation’s creative ecosystem. Fostering the conditions for Malawi’s creators (visual artists, musicians, authors, filmmakers and more) to thrive, they believe, will support their drive to improve the country’s economic outlook.

“The creative sector is an important asset for countries like Malawi that face low commodity prices in global markets and a host of technical barriers to trade in export markets,” explains Ambassador Robert Salama, Permanent Representative of Malawi to the United Nations in Geneva. “Development of this sector is important for employment creation and for generating much-needed foreign exchange. It has the potential to generate thousands of jobs for young people and millions of dollars in revenue,” he says, pointing to the experiences of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Kenya’s creative sector, for example, accounts for 5.3 percent of GDP, twice the figure for agriculture. Similarly in Nigeria, Nollywood, the world’s fastest-growing film industry, is responsible for creating more than a million jobs and has annual sales of some USD 5 billion.

“In Malawi, we have a wonderful creative sector which is playing a significant role in the creation of employment and generation of foreign exchange,” Mr. Salama says.

“We believe strongly in the opportunity which the creative industries can deliver to our people, not only for economic growth and employment, but also for the promotion of our language and the preservation of our cultural heritage.”

A copyright law fit for the digital age

In 2016, Malawi’s Government ramped up its drive to translate the promise of Malawi’s creative wealth into concrete economic outcomes. In July 2016, Parliament passed a new copyright law which sets the scene for Malawi’s creative sector to take full advantage of the opportunities of the digital age, bringing the country’s copyright law into line with current international intellectual property (IP) standards.

The Government of Malawi is helping to nurture the country’s raw
creative talent by funding the establishment of a School for the Arts
(photo: Ariadne Van Zandbergen /Alamy Stock Photo).

“Malawi’s new law makes it possible for us to better promote the economic rights of creators and to crack down on piracy,” says Dora Makwinja-Salamba, Executive Director of the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA). The law introduces new provisions on online licensing to ensure that artists are paid for the expanding use of their creative works, including, for example, in ringtones, and online platforms. 

It also ensures easier access to copyright-protected works by people who are blind or visually impaired. “Malawi has a community of more than 10,000 people who are blind or visually impaired, so this new feature of our law means that these people, especially young people, will have a better chance to get an education, secure employment and live full and independent lives,” notes Ms. Makwinja-Salamba. “In the longer term it will also make it easier for them to access works in the formats they require from other countries.”

Further, in a move to ensure that researchers, teachers and students have access to the materials they need for educational and research purposes, the new law introduces a number of exceptions, specifically for schools and libraries. “These flexibilities mean that school children in Malawi will get the learning materials they need,” explains Ms. Makwinja-Salamba.

In response to calls from Malawi’s community of authors, the law also introduces a public lending right which will ensure authors receive a modest payment each time their works are loaned by libraries.

“It is self-evident that books borrowed from a library will diminish the sales of an author’s book, but paying the author for their expertise and time in writing the book is both morally and economically essential. We want to encourage our authors to write their next book,” Ambassador Salama explains.

Recognizing the need to safeguard the budgets of libraries and their ability to continue their valuable work in promoting literacy, lawmakers foresee that the payments associated with the public lending right will be covered by government funding.

“We have consulted extensively with authors and libraries when drafting the law and have made every effort to ensure that it supports authors’ interests without undermining those of our public libraries,” notes Ms. Makwinja-Salamba.

Musicians performing at Malawi’s Lake of Stars Festival. In 2015, the
festival attracted 79 Malawian acts and generated nearly
USD 15 million, highlighting the dynamism of Malawi’s cultural
scene (photo: steve mcinerny/Alamy Stock Photo).

COSOMA: driving change

Established in 1992, COSOMA is responsible for copyright matters in Malawi. It also serves as the country’s collective management organization and as such manages a wide range of rights to ensure creators and other rights holders are fairly remunerated for the use of their works. “We believe that collective management is an important tool to ensure creators receive a fair reward for the use of their works so they can continue to create year after year,” says Ambassador Salama.

COSOMA is at the forefront of efforts to develop Malawi’s creative sector. It also actively shares its copyright expertise with other countries in the region through its training programs. “We train policymakers from quite a number of African countries, but we want to do more. Our aim is to become a center of excellence for copyright in the region,” says Ms. Makwinja-Salamba.

Tackling piracy

As in many countries, piracy remains a major challenge and continues to hamper the significant growth potential of Malawi’s creative sector. 

“The creative sector is important to the future of our country. Our artists produce quality works but these are often sold through parallel markets. This means artists do not receive any of the revenue from the sale of their works,” explains Ms. Makwinja-Salamba.

For Ambassador Salama piracy is “the creative sector’s public enemy number one.” Malawi’s new copyright law takes a tough stance on it.

With the new copyright law fines have gone up significantly. They now range from USD 3000 to USD 15000 depending on the gravity of the offence, with prison terms of up to four years – up from USD 2 to USD 20 with a prison term of just one year under the 1989 copyright law.

Headquarters of COSOMA which is responsible for copyright matters
in Malawi. COSOMA is at the forefront of efforts to develop Malawi’s
creative sector (photo: Courtesy of COSOMA).

“Malawi has good creative people but the sector’s development is hampered by piracy. These tougher measures mean that pirates will no longer undertake their operations openly. If one pirate is arrested, it will send a strong message to others,” notes Ms. Salamba.

But low levels of general copyright awareness mean that effective application of the measures also requires a focus on building awareness among policymakers, law enforcement authorities and the general public about why it is important to protect the rights of creators. To this end, COSOMA is also working closely with customs, the police and the judiciary.

“Beneficiaries of the new system are very happy, but those who have to pay, of course, are not. With all new systems, we expect that some people will react negatively, but these measures are an important step in the right direction. They will help build stronger awareness about the need to respect the rights of our creators and will enable them to earn a living from their work,” says Ms. Makwinja-Salamba.

Practical support for Malawi’s creators

Beyond the modernization of Malawi’s legal infrastructure, the Government is also supporting various practical initiatives to strengthen Malawi’s creative economy. For example, a Copyright Fund is being set up to which artists can submit applications to fund their project proposals. The fund will be financed from various sources, including a levy on storage devices.

A Savings and Credit Cooperative for Artists has also been established to make it easier for creators to access funding. Many creators in Malawi do not have a bank account and find it difficult, if not impossible, to secure loans. The cooperative enables them to borrow against any savings accumulated from the sale of their work, among other things.

The absence of large music publishing and film production companies in Malawi means there are limited opportunities for creators to produce and successfully market their works. This, coupled with high levels of piracy, makes it difficult for creators to access legitimate markets, and for consumers to get hold of legitimate copies of works.

Malawi’s government is supporting a range of practical initiatives to
support the country’s artists. These include a Copyright Fund, a
Savings and Credit Cooperative for Artists and an Artists Production
and Marketing Cooperative (photo: Alan Gignoux /Alamy Stock Photo).

To address these gaps in the creative value chain, the Government is helping to set up an Artists Production and Marketing Cooperative.  “The cooperative will produce music, films and other art forms and promote their sale, including online, in global markets,” explains Ms. Makwinja-Salamba. This is a first for Malawi’s creative sector.

With another eye on the future, the Government is also helping to nurture the country’s raw creative talent by funding the establishment of a School for the Arts to enhance the creative skills of artists, many of whom have no formal education. The aim is to hone the artistic talents of creators and to enable them to develop and promote their works and effectively manage their IP rights. Construction of the first such school is expected to start in 2017.

The stage is set

Convinced of the importance of supporting the development of its creative sector, Malawi is setting the stage for its creative sector to thrive in the years ahead. “Our aim is to support the development of the creative sector’s economic value chain, and in particular creators, who are the first link in that chain,” says Ambassador Salama. “We still have some distance to travel in Malawi in delivering to our people the numerous benefits of a well-remunerated creative sector, but we have made significant progress in setting the foundations and establishing the institutions required for the sector to continue to develop and thrive.”

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