15 Jun
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Copyright Protection in Ethiopia Shining Law, Zero Effect

The idea of enacting a copyright law was first developed to encourage creativity and further grew on that sole purpose and protecting companies’ and individuals’ right to ownership.  Such protections of copyright is expressed by giving the author or the owner of copyrightable works the exclusive right of reproduction, sale, rent, transfer, and other communication of the work to the public.

According to David Bainbridge, a well-known writer on Intellectual Property, copyright means an intangible, incorporeal property right granted by the law to the owner of the specified types of literary and artistic works such as films and sound recordings. Furthermore, copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, and system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery.

One important feature of copyright law is that it does not protect ideas, rather protects the expression of an idea.

However, protecting the interest of the owner of the copyrightable work is not the only purpose of the copyright law. Copyright law has to also take in to account the interest of the society at large.

The protection given by the law to the owner of the copyright, in recognition of the time and effort taken to create the work, ensures a fair balance between the needs of the copyright user and the rights of the copyright owner. People need to be able to copy materials produced by others, but if there were no limits in place, the owners of the copyright material would not be remunerated for their work, and there would be no incentive to create further work.

 Copyright law in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, intellectual property in general and copyright in particular is a very recent development compared to other countries. Getachew Mengistie, the former Director General of Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office, confirms that the introduction of policy, legal and institutional framework with regard to intellectual property is a recent phenomenon.

The 1960 Civil Code is the first law that deals with copyright issues in Ethiopia. The Code discusses about protection Literary and Artistic ownership. However, the laws were not sufficient to cover all issues relating to copyright and to effectively protect the right of authors and owners of copyrightable material. As time goes, the need for a specific law dealing with copyright has become crucial.

The Federal Constitution recognizes the protection of intellectual property in general. The Constitution under its cultural objectives provision (Article 91(3)) states that the “Government shall have the duty to the extent its resources permit to support the development of the arts, science and technology.”  Pertinent to that the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) was established as an autonomous institution in 2003. Copyright and Neighboring Rights Protection Proclamation No.410/2004 was also enacted in 2004. This new proclamation has introduced new concepts and rights, widened the scope of copyright and related rights, and provided a better mechanism of enforcement and protection of copyright.

The proclamation, without the requirement of prior registration, provides protection of literary works, musical works, artistic works, maps and technical drawings, photographic works, cinematographic works, and computer programs. It also introduced the moment of fixation than publication to protect the copyright. Ethiopian Criminal Code also protects infringement of rights relating to literary, artistic or creative works. Art.721(1) of the Criminal Code of Ethiopia provides that “whoever ,apart from cases punishable more severely by another provision of this code, intentionally violates laws ,regulations or rules issued in relation to rights on literary ,artistic or creative works ,is punishable with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding ten years”. On the other hand sub Article (2) of this Article provides that “where the act is committed negligently, the punishment shall be simple imprisonment not exceeding five years”. The law also fines up to Birr 100, 000 for the violation the copyright and related rights.


According to a prominent person in the entertainment industry, more than 95% of music and 98% of locally made movies on the market are illegal copies. Due to the rampant copyright infringement, publishers are paying less money for movies. The constitution has every provision unambiguously but like most things, lack of enforcement remains the main challenge. Intellectual property, like any other tangible property should be given adequate attention by the law enforcement organs mainly the police and courts.


Professional associations such as the Ethiopian Musicians Association, Ethiopian Authors Association, Ethiopian Film Producers Association, Audiovisual Producers Association, Ethiopian Comedian Association and others can help raise awareness about the damages but unfortunately many of them are tangled in many problems of their own.