Today, a friend of mine wrote to me and reported how they had seen another person on Facebook update their status with my exact post. The post in question is one of my evening series works that I have made a point to share on my Facebook wall for those who enjoy my work. This particular reader took it a step ahead by deciding to lift my work to his timeline without offering even a grain of credit to me, the person who sat down and came up with this piece. This got me thinking about our future as writers and the future of the arts.
Plagiarism is on the rise with so many people disrespecting the arts. Writers are sort of quid pro quo volunteers in the society who render a service barely appreciated. If you do not know already, we put in much effort in creating our work and this gives us the mandate to deserve some form of reward, financial or otherwise. Is it a surprise then that our children clamour for fields such as law and medicine? The question is “who is killing the arts?”
I am a great enthusiast of literature and I have had some prudent experience in studying the growth of this industry not only in Uganda but also on the African continent. We have great names that sound on the continent both from the colonial era and the post-colonial era; Ngugi wa Thiong’oo, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Peter Abrahams, Okot p’Bitek, among others. Today, names like Chimamanda Ngozi, NoViolet Bulawayo, Doreen Baingana, Susan Kiguli are heard.
There has been a significant trend shift in the writing industry. While men formerly dominated it, today we have the majority of rising writers as women. Actually, the need for women to express themselves has led in a way to their involvement on the literary scene. In Uganda, The Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE) was formed to help mobilise women voices and very many of them have gone ahead to publish their work. Looking through the stories and novels rising out of their work, there is a predominant female voice breaking formerly existing social trends in Uganda and in Africa in general. We see the voice of a woman rising from a background of social, political and cultural boundaries and breaking into a new world; questioning male superiority and calling for equality, presenting the evils that many women formerly suffered such as rape and defilement and setting a trend for a future they want.
The modern day writer unlike in the past also faces the challenge and opportunity of the internet. Whereas in the past publishing houses had a firm grip on the industry producing work in print and supplying it to final readers; today, the emergence of the internet has presented a fair share of challenges. E-books and social media are fast growing means for writers to share their work and the ability to generate revenue from these forms is more complex. A writer based in Uganda for example stands fewer chances of selling her or his books online to Ugandans because few of them use credit or debit cards, let alone access the internet for such intent. The other risk is that the e-book can easily be shared once procured by one customer and this beats the economics!
In a bid to survive, the industry is going through changes and we are adapting to social media and other modern forms to market our work. We need to come out strong to fight and shame those that are killing the arts industry, show value to those that do not see it yet and create opportunities for improving it. In Uganda, our government passed the “The Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006”, which is a very good law on paper. We need to see such laws that have come out to protect art and innovation implemented by our legal systems. I look to a day when I will be able to take someone to court for simply plagiarizing my status update on Facebook or twitter, for truth be told, these are the new frontiers on which we must market and sell our work.