Kenyan music union urges president to push through copyright law

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has added his voice to the ongoing issue of the division of returns from mobile phone music platforms. While many artists and other industry stakeholders are lauding the president’s call for companies to pay artists their dues, concerned parties in the music industry think the president ought to do more than just talk.

Kenyan Musician Union Acting Secretary General John Katana. Photo by Chris Swai
Kenyan Musician Union Acting Secretary General John Katana. Photo by Chris Swai

“I think the president’s comments on the issue shows the concern his government has for the industry. However, this is not the first time the president has made such remarks. At the 2013 Groove Awards the president made a great speech on the government’s commitment to supporting the industry,” said John Katana, the General Secretary of the Kenya Musicians Union.  

Katana said it would have had more impact if the president had instructed the Attorney General’s office and parliament to fast-track and enact the amended Copyright Bill. “Call back tune services are run by private entities, a president’s declaration therefore does not affect how they run business. Such entities can only be compelled by acts of parliament or laws,” Katana told Music In Africa.

In 2013, while speaking at the Groove Awards ceremony, the president remarked: “Beyond its core value, music is a multi-billion industry through which many talented people across the world make a decent living. I wish to assure our musicians, and indeed other artists, that my government is committed to supporting you to develop, exploit and benefit from your talents.”

At the time, the president had acknowledged that piracy was a key challenge to the Kenyan music industry. He called on the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture to step up measures to protect musicians and other artists from copyright infringement.

Katana said that the structures in place for royalties are well defined via the three collective management organizations (CMOs) – the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), the Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) and the Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP). “With the exception of one CMO, which does not adhere to the regulations, all the other CMOs are able to discharge their mandate effectively,” Katana said. KECOBO is set to announce a new royalty structure where broadcasters will now pay royalties based on new tariffs that meet international standards. At the moment radio stations pay an annual flat rate of Ksh75,000 (US $740) for use of music and TV stations pay Ksh24,000 (US $236). 

He said if the government enacted the amended Copyright Bill, the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO), which oversees the operations of the CMOs, would be able to bring about much-needed reforms. According to Katana, the amended Copyright Bill proposes that the collection of royalties be unified as opposed to the current trend where all the three CMOs collect the royalties separately. “If the Bill is effected it will be easier for KECOBO to monitor the resources. On the other hand users will be happy to have only one agency collecting as opposed to paying three different entities as is the case now,” Katana further says. 

Not only will users be happy to pay up but this will be cost effective for KECOBO and the collecting agency. Additionally, the Bill proposes that KECOBO is allowed to be involved in the accounting of the resources by the CMOs. Currently, KECOBO receives audited financial reports in order to verify the authenticity. In the proposed Bill KECOBO will be able to send their own auditors to check the CMOs’ books of account.

Artists need to play their role

Even though artists attend meetings year after year and march in the streets to protest lack of payment of royalties, Katana said the artists have often not spoken in one voice. Artists need to identify what their real needs are and articulate them. “When meetings are called, not all artists attend. It is great to be vocal on social media, however the laws that affect us are always discussed at Annual General Meetings (AGMs) and not online,” Katana said.

He said, beyond agitating for their royalties, artists also need to focus on how the CMOs operate and hold them accountable. “Without proper management by the CMOs, it is difficult for the organizations to provide other beneficial services to the artists.”

On 29 September Justice Fred Ochieng ordered MCSK to pay a group of gospel artists their royalties. The 14 musicians filed a case at the High Court in Nairobi, claiming that MCSK had declined to release their dues paid over to MCSK by Safaricom.

While in the past artists in the country have been accused of being ignorant on pertinent issues that affect them, Katana said this is changing and artists are becoming more aware of their rights.

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