COSOMA bemoans lenient punishments on pirates Featured

27 Oct 2021
565 times

In a bid to see that courts mete stiff punishments to convicts of piracy, the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) is holding a training for magistrates in Salima.

This follows revelations that courts have continuously been handing lesser sentences to people involved in the malpractice at the expense copyright owners in the country.

Speaking at a magistrates training on copyright law, COSOMA Executive Director Dora Makwinja said the meeting was necessitated by they need to address the matter.

She said: “We would like to see a change that results in a few and no cases at all of piracy. We hope the training will instil that spirit in our colleagues from the courts.”

Added Makwinja: “The law provides for two to ten million as minimum and maximum fines and two to four years sentence, respectively for those convicted of piracy.”

In a recent report from the society’s chairperson, Maureen Masamba shared at the recent Annual General Assembly, most courts give punishments that do not deter would be offenders.

“They mete out very small fines to the convicted pirates. For example in Blantyre, a book pirate was fined K30,000.00; in Balaka, a music pirate who had heavy duty equipment and was illegally reproducing other people’s works was fined K20,000 and the equipment which he was using for pirating was returned to him,” bemoaned Masamba.

She added: “As at 30 June, 2021, the only court which meted out some reasonable fine was Nkunkhula court in Lumbadzi where an infringer was fined K727, 000.00 and equipment was confiscated.”

While acknowledging the concerns raised by COSOMA, Justice Annabel Mtalimanja however says the issues need to be looked at broadly.

“When a matter comes to court, the presiding judicial officer works within the confines of the law. So whatever punishments are given out, depend on the legislation present.

“Of course, there is judicial discretion that rest with the officer handling a matter in terms of determining the range. But whatever sentence can be given has to be within and not beyond the prescribed range,” she said.

Mtalimanja explained that if there are major discrepancies or departures, there is need to see if there can be interventions to be made.

“I believe this forum can look at such and see what interventions can be made. This training is crucial for the magistrates and not just a refresher for those that have had it before but newer entrants too. They have not been exposed to a training like this,” she added.

Added the Justice: “This is going to equip them with appropriate knowledge so that when copyright infringement cases come before them, they would be able to competently handle. This should be an ongoing exercise as we have a turnover of the worships.”

Asked on whether the issues of lenient sentences to pirates are as a result of smaller punishment stipulated in the Copyright Law or magistrates not using judicial discretion, Mtalimanja stated that it is a combination of both reasons.

“The first thing is working within the confines of the prescribed penalties. If COSOMA feels that the penalties are low, then what needs to be done is a law review and subsequent amendment.

“If it also transpires that the punishments are just low, then that is another discourse. There are a lot of factors that have to be considered before sentencing; you have to look at the individual case,” she mentioned.

The magistrates training has attracted representatives from courts; Balaka, Zomba Thyolo, Nsanje, Blantyre, Limbe, Lunzu, Mulanje, Mangochi Mwanza, Lilongwe, Nkunkhula, Salima, Mchinji, Nkhunga, Ntcheu, Kasungu, Mzimba, Mzuzu and Karonga.

This is the series of such sessions which COSOMA is holding with key duty bearers to engage them on the Copyright Law in a bid to protect rights holders.

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Copyright Society of Malawi
Off Paul Kagame Road
Next to the Malawi Rural Finance Company Office
Capital City
Lilongwe 3

Telephone: +265 1 751 148