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Spotlight on the Protection of Creative Industries
December 5, 2011

Ambassador Betty King

Remarks by Ambassador Betty King at the screening of the film “Otelo Burning”
U.S. Mission Geneva,
December 1, 2011


I’d like to thank Ambassador Minty of South Africa and the International Federation of Film Producers for their assistance in coordinating and hosting this fantastic event.

We are honored this evening to have South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, her excellency, Ms. Fatima Chohan, and as always, delighted to have Ambassador and Mrs. Minty and their children, Melissa and Barry.

The history of African filmmaking spans decades and includes many wonderful films and achievements.  In recent years, especially, African filmmaking has exploded onto the world stage.  In 2005, a South African film, Tsotsi, won the American film industry’s highest honor, an Academy Award, for Best Foreign Language Film.  At the Academy Awards in 2010, another South African film, District 9, was nominated for Best Picture.  These achievements reflect the dynamic domestic film industry not just in South Africa but throughout the African continent.  Film festivals like the prestigious Durban International Film Festival, now attract world-wide audiences.

This year, the opening film at Durban, Otelo Burning, told the story of a boy finding his freedom on the water, away from the struggles onshore.  Tonight, we will watch his story unfold. As we do so, we should keep in mind the protections that allowed his story to be told so beautifully.

Copyright protection today creates a film heritage for the future. It protects a nation’s creative output and stimulates the creation of new material by guaranteeing the artist’s control over his or her own work.  As demonstrated with great success in the United States and India, vibrant film industries boost foreign investment and tourism and create jobs, driving the economies in cities like Los Angeles and Mumbai.  This success is only possible because the hard work of the artists involved is shielded by intellectual property protections against unfair appropriation and use.  Unfortunately, Africa has also become a target for counterfeit and pirated goods in recent years, disrupting the development of the burgeoning African film industries.

One of the most famous South African artists, Mama Africa Miriam Makeba, whose melodious voice and inspiring lyrics stirred our souls across the African diaspora and delighted audiences across the globe, was keenly aware of the need for intellectual property protection.  Over the last ten years of her life, she systematically secured the IP rights to all of her work in a trust established specifically for that purpose.  Her grandchildren now benefit from the tremendous volume of work Miriam produced.  Strong IP frameworks not only benefit business, they also protect the work of our national and international treasures, and thus ensure that the artistry of musicians like Mama Africa and films like Otelo Burning continue to not only exist, but thrive.