Kenyan band Elani slams copyright society over royalty disparity

Kenyan pop group Elani has called on the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) to be transparent and accountable, asking the organization to show the world the audits for their music, radio play and the methods they use to determine how much they give an artist. In a hearfelt tell-all video clip posted online, the trio of Brian Chweya, Maureen Kunga and Wambui Ngugi chronicles their seven years on the Kenyan music scene and their current struggles.

Kenyan trio Elani. Photo: www.musicnation5.com
Kenyan trio Elani. Photo: www.musicnation5.com

“The structures within the music industry in Kenya have failed the musician," they claim in the video. "Those entrusted to distribute the money which is generated by our hard work have failed us. The organizations whose sole purpose is to manage and distribute the funds that our blood, sweat and tears have created have failed us. We spent all we had to make the best music we could. We sincerely deserve to get our due.”

In the video, the trio says 2014 was one of their best years. During that year the group released about five singles but only received KES 31 000 (about $300) as royalties for songs that had been receiving substantial airplay. According to media reports, MCSK claimed this was the amount that the trio was entitled to as they registered late with the body. Additionally, while it might have appeared that the group’s music seemed to be receiving massive airplay, not all stations were playing their music; out of the 42 radio stations in Kenya, only 10 played the group's music.

Elani claims to have gone to the MCSK offices to look at the airplay logs but were given contradictory stories: they were told that certain radio stations were giving false logs and that MCSK doesn't monitor all stations. They allege that upon performing their own investigations by calling media outlets, they realised that the officials had lied to them. After Elani complained and followed up with the radio stations, the MCSK reportedly gave them a further KES 300 000 (about $2930). Speaking to Pulse magazine, MCSK CEO Maurice Okoth revealed that after the trio's complaints, the society checked their records and discovered a mistake on their part: they had failed to monitor their songs for the period dated July 2013 to June 2014. The KES 300 000 was therefore compensation for the royalties lost within that period, during which their song received massive airplay.

Elani's compensation is not the end of the matter, however, and the MCSK's mistake suggests a wider problem for all Kenyan artists. "If Elani deserves 300 000 and all they are getting is 30 000, how many other artists are there who deserve ten times what it is that they receive, only because they don't come and ask?" ask the band.

 

While most people sympathized with the group for the misfortune, others were not buying this story. One Philip Etemesi commented in response to the Youtube video: "Okay, MCSK sucks. That's not news. But this doesn't explain why you guys have been unable to release other hit songs. More so, big artists like you shouldn't be relying on MSCK to survive. I think the issue lies with your management. You should be doing more gigs that earn you good money."

The general feeling, however, is that the MCSK has failed Kenyan artists. In 2015, Alex Apoko (popularly known as Ringtone), led hundreds of MCSK members in a demonstration during the society’s awards ceremony at Carnivore. He said the society was betraying its members by using the revenue collected to hold the awards, rather than staging a fully sponsored event.

The MCSK in the last quarter of 2015 witnessed a lot of resistance from the artists with the battle being taken to the court. In November 2015, it was accused of withdrawing KES 6 million ($58 600) irregularly. CEO Maurice Okoth claimed there were records accounting for the money that was used to pay members. “MCSK has been declared an illegal entity by the Director of Public Prosecutions, despite getting a letter from the office of the Attorney-General to prove our legitimacy and authority to collect money on behalf of artistes,” Okoth said at the time.

There has been widespread dissatisfaction directed at the society and the new claims by Elani put the MCSK further into the spotlight.

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