Kenya's Safaricom enjoined in royalties cases

Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom has been enjoined in two cases involving artists and collective management organisations (CMOs) over the payment of Skiza Tune royalties. Judges ordered Safaricom to file a replying affidavit within 10 days in the two cases seeking to overturn high court orders that restrained Safaricom from remitting Skiza Tune royalties through CMOs.

Kenyan artist Iddi Achieng, the incoming chairperson on PRISK. Photo: Youtube
Kenyan artist Iddi Achieng, the incoming chairperson on PRISK. Photo: Youtube

Kenyan courts earlier issued two contradictory rulings, one of them in 2015, which required that royalties be channelled through CMOs and not agents, otherwise known as premium rate service providers (PRSPs) and content service providers (CSPs), which meant that artists would not need to split their share of 15% with PRSPs/CSPs.

Safaricom then paid the Skiza Tune royalties to the three CMOs – the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), the Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) and the Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) ­– who would then pay the artists.

However, two artists, Mercy Munene Kingoo and Lydia Nyiva Kingai, filed a petition arguing they were not part of any CMO and did not intend to join one. The second ruling found the first unconstitutional since it limited the manner in which royalties could be paid, lacked public participation and infringed on artists’ constitutional rights. It ordered Safaricom to pay Skiza royalties directly through CSPs and PRSPs.

The CMOs and artists wish to have this ruling overturned.

While adjourning the case on 13 March, the judges said Safaricom now wished to file responses in both petitions.

Skiza is a content sales platform owned and operated by Safaricom, Kenya’s largest telco. It uses the telco’s network to sell content and has subscribers pay via airtime or mobile money. It was started in 2009 and has since grown to become one of the biggest revenue earners in Safaricom’s portfolio of premium services, generating 1 billion Kenyan shillings ($9.7m) between June 2015 and February 2016. Of this, artists received only 15%, to be split with PRSPs and CSPs, thus the efforts to find a Skiza revenue split formula that favours artists.

Meanwhile, changes at the helm of the PRISK have seen Robert Kimanzi, popularly known as R Kay, exit as chairperson of the board to be replaced by singer and actress Iddi Achieng. Kimanzi, who is a veteran music producer, allegedly resigned to pursue personal interests in the US.

Gospel artist Owen Mwatia, whose stage name is Daddy Owen, now joins the society as a director, filling the vacancy left by Achieng.

PRISK is charged with collecting and distributing royalties on behalf of performers in music and drama.

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