Uganda: Richard Kawesa in raging copyright battle with telco

Ugandan artist Richard Kawesa has taken the copyright war to the doorstep of Africell Uganda, a Lebanon-based telecom company that he says has infringed on the copyright to his song, ‘Ani Akuba Babie Wange’, a lullaby that the company has been using as their call centre tune.

Richard Kawesa who protested in chains, on a mat outside the Africell ofiices.
Richard Kawesa who protested in chains, on a mat outside the Africell ofiices.

The embattled artist has camped outside Africell Telecommunications headquarters on Clement Hill Road in Kampala in chains and wielding placards while demanding payment of Shs52 million (Uganda shillings), the equivalent of US$15,295 for the use of his song. He first took up the protest chains one year ago on 18 January 2016, but did not get justice, and returned in January 2017.

On 17 January 2017, he was arrested alongside four Ugandan journalists who were covering his story and detained at Jinja Road police in Kampala for over seven hours.

Photojournalists Eddie Muhumuza of Hub for Investigative Media, Kenson Bugembe and Mohamed Safe from Uganda Media Centre were arrested for taking pictures of Kaweesa Richard as he protested.

Muhumuza and Kawesa were both charged with criminal trespass and granted police bond after seven hours of detention while Bugembe and Safe were forced to delete pictures of Kawesa in chains and released without charge.

Kawesa’s drawn out battle with the mobile network operator started in May 2015, when he brought the copyright infringement and abuse to the attention of Africell’s senior management. They wrote back claiming that Africell owned the rights to the song. The artist laments that the company has since continued to flout the law.

“Africell has been infringing my copyright since February 2014 when their five year contract expired. I wrote to them to stop the infringement but they declined and never responded to my warnings through my lawyers, so I decided to fight this injustice by protesting at their headquarters. Unfortunately I was arrested, handcuffed and detained here,” Kawesa told Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-Uganda) from Jinja Road police station. Police confiscated all the materials he had.

Kawesa says he was approached by Orange Telecom in January 2009 asking him to license them to use the song as their signature tune. He had composed the lullaby whose title translates to ‘who is hurting my babie?’ for his yet unborn children a few months before he got married in 2003.

The French-based firm asked that he translates the song into English and instituted a strict agreement on further licencing of the song by both parties.

“Orange agreed not to pass on the license to a third party as per the agreement. The agreement was so tight that it even barred me from licensing the song to another telecom not only during the term but also 10 years after the five-year term expired,” Kawesa said.

By the time Orange exited the market in May 2014, Kawesa says the song contract had expired by three months. Their successor Africell, however, continued to use the song as their or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) tune in violation of the artist’s copyright.

The 39 year-old artist started his music career at the age of 10, traveling through the United States and Canada and eventually going solo in 1996 before launching out into consultancy. Kawesa was the production consultant for the movie The Last King of Scotland and contributed music to the 2012 feature film The First Grader. He is also the social entrepreneur behind Bankable Society, an internet business community and the Music Forum, an association with over 320 artists and producers.

Kawesa started a social media campaign dubbed #arrestinjustice, where he is creating awareness on issues of copyright infringement and theft. He is also demanding Shs1 billion as compensation and damages from Africell. Half of that is to go towards establishing the Arrest Injustice Foundation while half is to be paid to his South African publishers, Sheer Publishing Africa which has wielded its financial and legal muscle to sue on his behalf, and which will pay him his dues.

He is also demanding that Africell makes a public apology and acknowledges that he is the rightful owner of the song’s copyright.

This article was originally published in Chimpreports on 18 January, 2017.

Here's the video for Kawesa's song 'Ani Akuba Babie Wange?'



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