Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Copyright and Literary Piracy in Ghana

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Copyright and Literary Piracy in Ghana

Article excerpt


This paper discusses the issue of copyright, especially as it pertains in Ghana. It also examines the extent of literary piracy and its impact on authors and the book industry in Ghana. Remedies proposed to curb this activity include resourcing of the Copyright Office; creation of copyright awareness; and strict prosecution of offenders.


According to Harrods Librarians' Glossary (1984), copyright is a procedure whereby the originator of a piece of intellectual property (books, articles, piece of music etc.) receives due recompense for the inventiveness or the imagination expended. The law of copyright has had a rather slow evolution dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with the introduction of the art of printing from movable type. Increase in the number of printers resulted in the assumption of the prerogative of granting printing privileges, usually by the monarch. A congress which deserves special mention is the Universal Copyright Convention held in 1952. Forty countries from both developed and developing areas were represented. Prior to this, in 1886, a convention was held in Berne which aimed at protecting the rights of authors.

The main international agreement on copyright is the Berne Convention of 1886, administered by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), to which most countries in Africa have fashioned their own copyright laws. The WIPO is an international organization tasked with promoting the intellectual property of works. It is a UN specialized agency based in Geneva and has a country membership of 179. The Berne Convention stipulates that copyright usually lasts for the life of the author, plus an additional 50 years. After that the work is then in the public domain.

To most people, the author is a person who writes or produces a book. In all fields of human endeavour, initiative and originality are primary values associated with authorship. In the specific context of the book industry, and particularly in the authorship of literary works, an author is also expected to have a creative turn of mind, a distinctive vision of society and a restless passion to communicate. In order for an author to contribute to knowledge and the advancement of his fellow men, he should reveal a distinctive quality of mind, reveal creative originality in his total being and a willingness to share something of value with posterity. One may therefore confidently assert that, without authorship of some kind, books cannot be produced.

Copyright law in Ghana

The Copyright Act, 1961 Act 85 is the main copyright law in Ghana. This law gives protection to the authors of literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. The owner of a copyright is granted by law certain exclusive rights in his work such as:

* the right to print, reprint and copy the work;

* the right to sell or distribute copies of the work;

* the right to transform or revise the work by means of dramatisation, translation, musical arrangement or the like;

* the right to record the work;

* the right to perform publicly, if it is a literary, dramatic or musical work

Before this Act, all copyright issues in Ghana were covered by the Copyright Act, 1911 of the United Kingdom.

The Book Industry

In Ghana, the book industry is a relatively young industry. Before independence, almost all the textbooks used in schools were imported from Britain. But it was soon discovered that this was not helpful to the nation. Hence the need to encourage the development of the local book industry. This is necessary because a buoyant local book industry has the following advantages:

* It promotes cultural and educational enrichment;

* It provides opportunities for academics and the nation's thinkers to express themselves in writing and publishing;

* It fosters the development of a sense of national history, tradition and unity;

* It directs the industry to priority areas in publishing so that critical national needs for books can be satisfied. …

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