A few weeks ago, the Sooo Many Stories team attended a copyright workshop hosted by KTA Advocates, a law firm that specialises in Intellectual Property (IP) law. It contributed to the very necessary conversation in the creative space on the ways in which creatives can protect their work and ensure that they are not exploited. The one day conference covered various areas such as the necessity and process of registering copyright and the work of associations that help with copyright law enforcement such as Uganda Reproduction Rights Organization (URRO) and Uganda Performing Rights Society (UPRS). Briefly covered during the conference was the protection of online content using copyright law. I met with Kenneth Muhangi – a partner with KTA Advocates and an expert on media law especially in regards to IP – afterwards and went into detail about the ways in which the copyright law here in Uganda expands to cover content published online. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
A copyright is a form of protection provided by the law to authors of original works of authorship.
Copyright is inherent. Once you reduce something into a form of creation (writing, photograph, graphic etc) it gets copyright automatically. The easiest way to prove in court that you own the copyright to a piece of work is by registering it and the organisation responsible for copyright registration in Uganda is Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). The registration process here, like other content types, is governed by the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006. For registration of online content, you are required to register the content on the blog and not the blog itself. The reason for this is the fact that most platforms used for blogging, like WordPress or Tumblr, are already registered IP domains. It is different if you develop an app and store all your content there. Here you would register the app and then by default all content under it would be within your copyright, unless stated otherwise. A good example of this is the Eunie’s Kitchen app, an app by Dr Eunice Adubango of the Eunie’s Kitchen where she shares recipes. Once her app is registered, she does not need to register the videos she puts up. On a platform like YouTube however, if registration is how she would like to prove ownership, she would need to register each video.
Enter time stamps.
For online content, another way to prove your copyright is using the time stamps that can be retrieved from whatever platform you have used. However, sometimes maintaining the chain of evidence can be hard since time stamps can very easily be tampered with. It can be conclusive proof if it is very clear and has been certified by a forensic expert but a certificate of registration still holds more weight in court. It moves the burden of proof to the defendant.
With that being said though, time stamps make it easier to prove copyright ownership with online content than with other content forms such as books or paintings. It is for this reason that, for these other forms of content especially, registration is always encouraged. For online content, be very deliberate about time stamps. Record times and dates of uploading and sharing so you can look back and prove copyright. If you have subscribers, people that comment, like and share your work, then these can be witnesses in your case of infringement.
If you use a picture or graphic from someone else’s website and give adequate credit (possibly with information on how to reach that person) then there will probably be no need for monetary compensation. It will depend heavily on how much you have taken though. If it is a whole article or a whole album of pictures then that might cross the line of what in law is known as fair usage. Fair usage will include derived work used for academic purposes or work that is very minimally reproductive in terms of the original work’s core and purpose. What is looked at is quality rather than quantity. What have you taken? Does it form part of your core article? Is just a reproduction? Have you taken the information from something that should be bought? Are you giving out the information for free? To re-echo, in these cases, crediting work is essential. But note that the work credited shouldn’t be a substantial portion of the work, you shouldn’t take more than you need, and it should not reduce the value of the original work.
On the other hand, in cases where your work has been infringed upon by other online platforms you can work with an internet intermediary and have the act reported and the work taken down. Internet intermediaries include internet service providers (ISPs), search engines and social media platforms. The terms on many social media platforms account for infringement and cite that once it is reported there will be a notice and takedown requirement issued. In some cases the intermediary will be liable if they do not issue the notice after being informed.
When it comes to ownership of copyright and the rights ensuing, if you are not creating for yourself, it would depend on the contract created with your employer. Most employers will state in the contract that work created within the confines of employment (in work time or using work equipment) unless otherwise stated, will belong to the company. This is how intellectual property currently generally works. Here, the copyright can only be enforced by the employer and for that purpose will belong to them. If the employee would like to file a case citing infringement they would need to involve their employer. In this case, both have rights but the economic rights belong to the employer and the employee has the moral right: they can demand credit. Lesson here? Read and re-read and re-read your contracts before you sign! Even better, have a lawyer look through and advise you accordingly. At the very least you must know what you are getting into before you get in.
We also talked about the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) circular issued earlier this year (which you can read here) pertaining to the registration of online platforms and how it affects us as a company that publishes heavily online. Mr. Muhangi was quick to mention the fact that one, it is legal. Technically it is law, in the sense that UCC derives its powers from the UCC Act which is very clear in regards to the jurisdiction UCC will have and that bloggers and other news distribution platforms are within that jurisdiction. It is arguable since the law is ambiguous, but it is very clear that as long as you are publishing something online, UCC has regulatory purview. The best thing to do here would be to dialogue with them through an association; it is okay for UCC to regulate online publishing platforms, but can they be more specific on the criteria? If I am running a blog sharing my personal stories can I be exempt? Can the scope of online platforms be better defined; will it include my twitter threads or instagram stories? What platforms is it limited to? The issue is the notice has come out but it is not clear; right now it includes everyone and every platform. Understanding the need for the circular is also important as we dialogue. There are so many newspapers, especially online, publishing fake news nowadays and there is no way to regulate them and that becomes a problem. The fact that they are anonymous makes regulation even harder. This is what Mr. Muhangi thinks was the main focus of the circular. You can read more on his thoughts here.
Thank you so much KTA Advocates for the enlightening conference! Thank you for taking it upon ourselves to equip and educate the creatives of Uganda. We look forward to the creation of more conversation like these in the future.