Kenyan Musicians Escalate Fight For Royalties 10/02/2016 by Fredrick Nzwili for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)NAIROBI, Kenya — The battle for music royalties in Kenya has spurred musicians and artists to demand transparency and accountability in the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), the body that collects and distributes the fees. Esther Wahome, Kenyan singer and gospel artist Recently, MCSK, the non-profit collective management organisation (CMO) of authors, arrangers, composers and publishers of musical works, has been in the spotlight over corruption allegations and misappropriation of the royalty money. But MCSK has defended itself, blaming non-compliance by broadcasters and general lack of understanding of artists about its procedures, protocols and tariffs. In the East Africa nation, the fight for the royalties has been going on for the last three decades, but the controversy heightened in January this year, when Elani, a contemporary afro-fusion music group, confronted the society over underpaid royalties. This forced the organisation to revise the payment. Members of Elani say they felt “cheated” after the body initially paid them US$310 (Kenya Shillings 31000) as royalties for 2014. This is a year when they recorded most music and got the most airplay in its history, propelling the band into international fame. But it is the quick second payment of US$3,000 made to the youthful group after they escalated pressure that has raised questions and suspicion among the artists. With MCSK blaming the inconsistency on irregularities in monitoring airplay, Elani visited the radio stations to collect logs showing how often their music played. “We were successful, [to get a payment], but what about many other musicians who are still fighting for their royalties?” Wambui Ngugi, one of three members of the musical group, queried in an interview. “Musician should get their cut of the hard-earned money.” In Elani, Ngugi – a lawyer – teams up with Bryan Chweya, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Maureen Kunga, a bachelor of science graduate from the University of Nairobi. “In an industry that is working well, royalties are supposed to be the biggest earner for musicians, but this is not the case in Kenya,” Ngugi explained. “We are seeking clarity. We are asking questions. If radio stations, banks, taxi owners, bus owners, salons, barber shops and event organisers remit money to MCSK, where does it go? Musicians need explanation,” she said. The singer stresses that most musicians believe that someone in MCSK is “stealing” from the artists and that a lot of talent and innovation is being harmed by their actions. In the recent past, the Kenyan music industry has grown, with young musicians taking advantage of modern technology to choose music as a career. But many of them protest that MCSK is dampening their hope. It is undercutting them, instead of protecting and enhancing earnings from their works. “Musicians are still struggling with royalties. There was some hope after several meetings with the CMOs, but it just that: hope. We have not seen any changes as of now,” said Bernard Waita, a musician and a former producer. In Kenya, there are four CMOs. The Reproduction Rights Society of Kenya (KOPIKEN) licences the reproduction of copyrighted materials; Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRiSK) represents performers in music and dramatic works; and MCSK collects and distribute royalties on behalf of authors, composers and publishers in the music industry and publishers. The fourth, Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP), collects and distributes royalties to producers of sound recordings. MCSK represents in Kenya the interests of other performing rights organisations through reciprocal agreement. According to the Music Act of Kenya, entertainment joints such as bars and discotheques, businesses such as salons, barber shops and Matatus (public transport vehicles) among others, require copyright licences from MCSK to play local music. Radio and television stations pay to air the music. About eight years ago, MCSK collected as little as US$200,000, but the collection has increased in folds, reaching estimated US$3.8 million, including those from reciprocal agreements, according MCSK officials. Presently, the organisation’s membership stands at about 11,000. The officials admit that there have been problems, but blame it on irregularities in the monitoring of airplay and non-compliance by media stations. Ronny Omanga, an official at the organisation, said broadcasters are required to submit a percentage of their broadcast royalties from advertising to MCSK, an income that would raise incomes for the artists. The compliance is very low, according to the officials, with most broadcasters paying the bare minimum of US$240 for per month for national television and US$720 for radio stations. “We have written to broadcasters urging them to comply, but are many are not paying the royalties,” said Omanga. As Kenyans debate the subject, some intellectual property lawyers argue that part of the problem is artists are not well informed when they make royalties claims. Others blame the lack of proper legislation to guide the operations of the CMOs. “I think the problem stems from CMOs. There is an overlap in the work,” said Wilfred Lusi, an advocate and patent agent in Kenya. According to Lusi, most of the revenue is used in administration and logistics, with a big chunk going into payment of salaries of the CMO officials. “There is no clarity on how they can spend the money. I think a legislation is needed to define how they can spend. Legislation is also needed to deal with broadcasters who fail to remit the royalties or fail to remit on time,” argued Lusi. Still, four of the MCSK accounts have been frozen following allegations of fraud and complaints from members. The organisation’s executive director is also facing charges in court over misappropriation of US$2million. “The problem at MCSK is ufisadi (corruption). A few greedy people benefit at the expense of a few. Take charge and fight the menace,” Nairobi County Senator Mike Sonko said, in a tweet in mid-January in a reaction to the problems at MCSK. Image Credits: Fredrick Nzwili Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Fredrick Nzwili may be reached at email@example.com."Kenyan Musicians Escalate Fight For Royalties" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.