Relentless breaches of journalists’ copyright are doing serious “economic damage” to news organizations in Ghana, editors and journalists said at a World Press Freedom Day event in Accra.
A roundtable discussion on May 1, 2018, organized by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), led to a call for a campaign to raise awareness of authors’ and journalists’ rights.
Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson, a 27-year-old court reporter for the Daily Graphic in Accra, believes breaches of copyright are an existential threat to his livelihood.
He told the roundtable, attended by 45 senior journalists and editors from West Africa, that he was recently the only reporter in court to see a young man sentenced to death for the murder of two African Americans. Within hours of publication, his exclusive had been lifted word for word by radio stations.
“We wake up in the morning at 6 a.m. and everything on the front page has been read out on the radio stations,” he said. “Why would people pay to buy a newspaper when the radio station can give them everything? [The radio stations] don’t appreciate the economic loss to newspapers.”
Gabriel Baglo, secretary-general of the Federation of African Journalists, said that more than half of those attending a recent meeting of journalists from eight West African countries “didn’t know anything” about copyright.
“Copyright or authors’ rights are usually seen by journalists as an issue that affects only artists or [fiction] writers. Journalists do not realize that their stories and productions are their own creation and that they deserve to enjoy and protect the rights related to them.”
Addressing the issue was long overdue, he said.
The roundtable session was part of an EJN and FAJ program to raise awareness of the issue in Africa. They plan to produce an online training module aimed at creating a newsroom culture of respect for rights-protected material.
The module will focus on the challenges posed by digital technologies and the importance of respect for the moral and economic rights of the creators of material used in journalistic work.
Topics of the course will include:
Copying and the use of editorial material from other sources and the need to ensure verification, attribution and respect for the moral rights of others.
The use of images, video and film and the dangers posed by digital manipulation of visual content.
Korieh Duodu is a lawyer and media specialist that practices in both London and Accra, and one of the five panelists at the round table. He said copyright is not about quality or value, but about a piece of work being original.
“Copyright does not protect ideas or concepts,” he said.
Journalists can quote from the work of others on the basis of “fair use” or “fair dealing”, but they should acknowledge the author and only quote to the extent that would be justifiable within the context of the publication citing the work.
“Try to think about not devaluing the work you are quoting from,” he said. “Acknowledgement is very important … even a hyperlink is important.”
The issue has become more acute in a digital age where journalists often believe their work is aggregated without permission or attribution.
The challenges associated with settling copyright disputes were illustrated by an important South African court case in 2013 in which one business site, Moneyweb, sued another, Fin24, for copyright infringement in seven articles.
The South Gauteng high court found that Fin24 infringed on the copyright of one Moneyweb article from which they copied and republished a substantial part, and was ordered to pay damages.
However, the court said there was no infringement in the other six articles.
Journalists in Africa face many challenges from corruption to terrorism, and as a result, awareness of copyright issues is not a major focus.
Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, an experienced former editor in Accra and chair of the Editors’ Forum, Ghana, said she was preparing notes for a funeral booklet and wanted to include a short verse from a poem she had found. She asked her niece to identify the writer. After an internet search, her niece said, “Auntie I can’t find the writer, nobody wrote it.” To which she replied, “Everything you see online was written by somebody.”
“We are in dire need of guidelines,” she said. “We are quite careless about such matters. We have a problem with the electronic media. In the most brazen way, [the electronic media] makes use of work without due credit or attribution.”
The project on copyrights in Africa is supported by Kopinor.
Chris Elliott is the CEO and director of the Ethical Journalism Network. Contact Chris if you have information or examples of copyright breaches or advice on best practices related to rights-protected materials in Africa.