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World sports bodies express concern about Kenya's Copyright Bill

“Choose who's in charge: live TV debate with candidates for next Commission President #TellEUROPE” by European Parliament is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A coalition of global sports bodies wrote an open letter to the Kenyan government in December 2021, expressing their concern about the Kenya Copyright Amendment Bill currently before the Kenyan parliament, noting it may make sports content less accessible in the nation.

The Coalition is worried the proposed amendments to repeal sections 35B, 35C, and 35D of the Copyright Act will allow take-down notices to be annulled. Take-down notices enable copyright holders and related rights holders to control their work and the ability to make it available on online platforms. According to analysts, the amendments may enable content piracy to flourish.

Take-down notices are used by copyright owners worldwide to compel online platforms to remove content that infringes on copyright. 

If the Amendment Bill is passed into law, Kenya will be going against the grain with global trends. Take-down notices safeguard the intellectual property rights of copyright holders in their works. They are important for sports rights owners, who remove unauthorized content, which is crucial in protecting the value of live sport. Some fear the amendment may cause the average Kenyan to lose out on sports entertainment because content platforms may withdraw their services.

In some parts of the world, especially Europe, copyright laws and take-down notices are being strengthened to more tightly control live sports environment. The bill will may prevent Kenya from participating in the African Growth and Opportunity Agreement (AGOA) program. This is one of the additional provisions of renewal that requires a demonstrated commitment to copyright protection as a prerequisite to signing, threatening investor confidence.

The Sports Rights Owner Coalition (SROC) Chairman Mark Lichtenstein said that its members are “extremely concerned” over the potential changes to the Kenya Copyright Act. The Coalition is an alliance of more than 50 international and national sports bodies, representing some of the world’s leading sports codes and competitions, such as the English Premier League, London Marathon, World Tennis Association (WTA), UEFA, Rugby World Cup among others.   

The 2019 Copyright Amendment Bill, incorporates principles from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet treaties of 1996, which aim at preventing unauthorized access to and use of creative works. According to the Kenya Copyright Board (KeCOBO) Executive Director, Edward Sigei: 

Take-down notices are a critical tool for copyright holders and related rights holders to fight digital content piracy by controlling the distribution and economic viability of their work and how it is accessed online. 

The KeCOBO is a champion of the Partners Against Piracy (PAP), a collaboration of like-minded corporate Industry associations and individual rights holders to help fight piracy. PAP came out in support of the Sports Rights Owner Coalition’s statement. 

Across the world, they help to safeguard the intellectual property rights of sports rights owners. If rights owners cannot request that pirated sports content is taken down immediately, that will threaten the future of live sports broadcasts in Kenya. Why would international sports media allow sports broadcasts in Kenya, if they have no way of stopping them from being pirated?

Consumption of illegal content — especially sports — has been prevalent in Kenya and Africa in general which led the KeCOBO to develop a multi-sectoral approach to combating piracy, cybercrime, and illegal content.

Kenyan lawmaker John Kiarie, who sits on the Kenyan Parliment's ICT Committee, penned an op-ed titled “Copyright law changes threat to IP rights.” He noted that the proposed repeals represent the “biggest setback in the history of copyrights and is akin to disarming Kenyan authors and right holders.” He added that the “infringement of copyright online, even as trade-in content is now mainly digital, is rife making the provision in the Act very critical.”

The Sports Rights Owners Coalition furhter pointed out that in Europe policy makers are strengthening not weakening the effectiveness of take-down notices, particualrly live content. The Coalition also stated that were the Amendment Bill to be enacted, it could have devastating consequences for both the Kenyan economy and Kenyan consumers. The rights holders from sport and other creative industries are extremely unlikely to license their content in a jurisdiction that effectively legitimizes piracy — thereby denying consumers watching their favourite sports and televisions shows.  

“Kenyan parliament in Nairobi” by *SHERWOOD* is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

On the February 16, 2022, the Kenyan Parliament was asked to drop the Amendment Bill with the sponsor of the Amendment, Gladys Wanga, a lady lawmaker looking to drop the proposals altogether. 

There have been reactions on the intended changes on Twitter as shown below;

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