Respect ownership rights, avoid liability

Wednesday November 20 2019

A TV station studio. The law shields broadcasters, TV or otherwise, from deceitful third parties who seek to exploit their work. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


He was driving a horse-drawn plough at his family’s new farm in Idaho, the United States. As he ploughed the farm in straight, parallel lines, he saw TV in the lines. A system that would break an image into horizontal lines and reassemble them into a picture at the other end. A system driven by electrons.

That is how Philo Taylor Farnsworth, then 14, found a way for TV to work electronically rather than mechanically, his family said.


TV has mutated into various forms accessible through streaming, websites, laptops and even smartphones. Regardless of the form, the Copyright Act protect broadcasts.

Copyright gives the broadcaster three key exclusive rights: The right to broadcast, the right to rebroadcast and the right to create a translation or adaptation of the original work. That prevents others from making money from your broadcast without your consent and protects your financial rights to the broadcast. However, these exclusive rights are limited to Kenya.

Have you ever seen something interesting on TV and felt the urge to take a photo to share on social media? Refrain from that; a broadcaster has the right to control the taking of still photographs of their broadcast content, so you may be infringing on the owner’s copyright.



Signals, too, are owned by the broadcaster. If one causes a programme carrying signals to be distributed by a distributor for whom they were not intended, that is an infringement of copyright. You may be compelled to pay a fine or serve time in prison or both.

A court of law may issue an injunction to prevent an illegal broadcaster from further broadcasting someone’s content. The original broadcaster may also receive monetary compensation for it.

The recently renewed copyright law ensures that companies are held accountable too. If a body corporate is convicted of an offence under the Copyright Act, every person who was in charge at the time of the offence is also deemed to have committed the offence and is liable to prosecution.

The Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo), a state corporation that prosecutes such copyright infringement cases, has the mandate that includes organising legislation on copyright and registering works eligible for copyright.


Avoid legal liability by seeking express permission to broadcast or modify another person’s content by way of licence or assignment. A licence means that the owner will get a regular cut in the money you earn from broadcasting their work. An assignment means that the owner has sold all the rights to the broadcast to you. This means that you will give the owner a one-off payment.

It is good to have it in writing.

The current Constitution is the first in Kenya to expressly protect intellectual property, under Article 40. Additionally, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) protects economic rights that allow the owner to draw financial reward from others’ use of their works.


These laws step in to shield broadcasters, TV or otherwise, from deceitful third parties who seek to exploit their work, which provides a livelihood for many.

Ms Otieno, a lawyer, is a postgraduate student at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC). @LindaOtieno22