The South African government has committed to fighting against content piracy.

This is the word from Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, speaking at the launch of Partners Against Piracy (PAP), an initiative to combat piracy and raise awareness of the threat to the global creative industry.

The initiative is a coalition of South African creative workers, media professionals and activists come together under the theme, “Building a safe and fair creative economy in South Africa”.

Lamola says the creative-arts industry has immense potential to grow and attract investment. The South African Cybercrimes Act of 2020 empowera law-enforcement agencies to protect the industry by acting against piracy and allowed for harsher sentences on content pirates.

“We are constantly improving our systems and working to arrest the ringleaders of organised cybercrimes such as content piracy,” he says. “We look forward to working with PAP to wage a coordinated war against piracy.”

Delegates at the event heard that there were a total of 345,4-million visits by users to the top 10 piracy sites in just three months last year. Users in five major African territories made around 17,4-million visits, of which more than 5-million were from South Africa, according to figures from software security and media technology company Irdeto.

“Content piracy is about the theft of intellectual copyright,” says Copyright Coalition of South Africa (CCSA) chairperson Chola Makgamathe at the event. “Piracy robs content creators and rightsholders of the compensation they’re entitled to.”

Makgamathe says content piracy threatens the survival of content industries across Africa, as content workers would leave their industries if they could not earn a living from their work.

“This is a big monster with its tentacles across the world,” says Makgamathe. “It takes place across multiple jurisdictions. That is why we need partners like the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, business, civil society, and other NGOs. We call on everyone with a stake in the war against piracy to join us.”

Jotam Matariro, CEO for CAPASSO (the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association), told delegates at the event that of all music downloaded or streamed via digital platforms, it was estimated that only 37% was extracted legally.

“In South Africa, this means that that an estimated R691-million in revenue is lost to piracy,” he says. “The situation is getting worse. We need laws that hold internet platforms liable for internet piracy that happens on their platforms.”

Refiloe Hlabioa, production and development coordinator at the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), points out that filmmakers go to great lengths to finance their projects, sometimes going so far us to put up their own houses as surety.

“If a film doesn’t make money due to piracy, filmmakers stand to lose the very roof over their head,” she says.

PAP is a pan-African campaign to fight piracy, working to support content industries and protect the continent’s creatives from job losses due to piracy. The initiative was first launched in 2018, and has a presence in Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, and Malawi, among other territories.

Trademark attorney Stephen Hollis, of Adams & Adams Attorneys, says the war against piracy is not one that the private sector can address alone.

“Intellectual property rights must not just exist in statute. They must be enforceable,” he says. “Government and the private sector must engage to ignite the industry as a key economic driver of South Africa’s rebound from the pandemic.

Xhanti Payi, an economist and founder of Nascence Research Insights, adds that fighting piracy is about defending the country’s own economic output and the productivity of the African continent.

“Creating South African content also helps to grow international confidence in South Africa as a country, as an economy, and as an investment destination,” he says.

Makgamathe says that South Africans, legislators, law enforcers, businesses, and decisionmakers could take a stand against piracy by respecting copyright law, following ethical business practices and participating in legislative, policy and enforcement processes.

“We must build an industry that supports legitimate content platforms, ensures creators get what they’re entitled to, and which creates opportunities,” she says. “When we pay fair prices for content, we grow the industry, and South African audiences get more content that is relevant to them and their lives.”