What artists can learn from the Elani vs MCSK fiasco #ElaniSpeaks

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Elani are not the first group to complain about MCSK not paying them their dues. You will remember the Pitson issue last year in May when he received 4000 shillings as royalties from the song ‘Lingala ya Yesu’. There was hue and cry over that ridiculous amount for a song that got played almost everyday not just in Nairobi but countrywide. Apart from a few articles here and there it cannot be said that the issue was addressed to its rightful end.

Many other artists are coming forward to tell their stories of how MCSK has fleeced them and others saying that they have been waiting for their royalties for years to get their dues. In November 2014, Gospel musician Ringtone staged a protest  during the third annual MCSK award ceremony at the Carnivore grounds.  Together with several other musicians, they cited the reason for the protest as gross misappropriation of funds by MCSK.

The biggest concern here is that it took a group like Elani running into debt and speaking out on the issue for us to pay attention. Many people do not know that the Copyright Society of Kenya has been in existence since the year 1982.  When Maurice Okoth came into office that is when money started trickling in for artists. It is also at this important stage that there was grumbling that started coming from the artistes.

This problem has not only shown up in the music industry but also with actors. The Actors Guild which was formed in the year 2008 has had problems just trying to get actors to pay membership and convince them to attend workshops both free and paid. The leadership team at the Guild has been accused of playing favorites and not representing the real actors struggles. This despite the fact that the very people in leadership are veteran actors.

The biggest issue here is lack of unity. If all these artistes instead of just commenting on social media actually convened for a meeting and appointed representatives that would act as a bridge between MCSK and the artistes then it would be more productive. As at now it is a case of small fires being lit everywhere and not moving forward.

There is also a case of a lack of an understanding of the creative economy. The arts just started recently making money and there are success stories of artists living exclusively off their music or acting and even fine arts. The problem is that those examples are few in comparison to the number that is struggling.

Another issue that may seem small but is very important is that artists need to study the paperwork. After carefully going over the mandates of the MCSK (Music Copyright Society of Kenya), KAMP (Kenya Association of Music Producers), PRSK (Performance Rights Society of Kenya) and KOPIKEN (Reproduction Right Society of Kenya), I am suprised that no one else is up in arms over the royalties issue. I do not hear any producers, songwriters, composers, band members going to claim their money. Granted the information that is there is not very easy to grasp but it is there and the officials in charge are always ready to expound on it further.

On the part of MCSK the blame falls on them for not having their books in order. For Elani to have to go to radio stations to follow up on the logs shows that someone is not doing their job. I know people who have Elani’s songs on their phone which they did not pay for. The digital space is a very tricky area to regulate and I wonder whether the amount that the group that was eventually offered even factored in this as a potential revenue stream. A valid question, where did the money come from ?

According to the Copyright News Publication Issue no 8 John Katana who has been a member of the Copyright Society says a lot more needs to be done. He has been a member since 1985 and the current rate given is 30% of royalties goes to musicians while 70% goes to administrative costs. In other parts of the world the reverse happens. Clearly something is amiss.

Avril a Kenyan R’n’B artist presented a very important angle to the story that many people even artistes themselves need a clearer understanding of. In her piece she states that broadcast media have been giving MCSK a raw deal because some stations do not pay the rates to MCSK. They are also meant to give a percentage of their advertising revenue to MCSK which they do not.

She also presented a very important point about airplay. The payout takes place from July to June. So if you release a song say in May, the payout period ends in June then you will get paid for two months worth of airplay. You have to wait for the next distribution year to get your dues, something that many artists need to understand.

There is strength in numbers. That is what all artists  need to understand. If several like minded artists such as Avril came together to help deconstruct the whole issue they could come up with a solution and be taken seriously. There are examples of groups such as BAKE (Bloggers Association of Kenya) which has enabled bloggers to actually earn a living from their work. Five years in and the results are nothing short of extraordinary.

In Uganda, last year during their World Culture Day the government went into discussion with stakeholders in the music industry to see how they could introduce a pension fund to support veteran musicians and their dependents.

In the year 2013 Nigerian artistes  under the leadership of 2Face Idibia had an epic showdown with IBAN (Independent Broadcasting Association of Nigeria) and BON (Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria) banning artistes music from being played on radio and Tv stations due to the ‘harassment’ that they received from COSON (Copyright Society of Nigeria) over artistes royalties. The artistes all came together to boycott stations that complied with the directive to not play their music, rallied public support in favour of their cause, presented a document with their grievances and still got the media on their side by holding press conferences that were fully attended to argue their points.

As Wambui stated let’s look at the bigger picture. This is not just about Elani. This is about the Kenyan Music Industry which will continue to suffer unless all players involved agree to work together and speak in one voice. If the current leadership of the MCSK, PRSK and any other bodies are not working for you, you have the power of the vote. Put people in power who you believe are working for you.

In South Africa under a body CAPASSO(the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association) Mechanical rights are royalties that composers, lyricists and music publishers earn when their music is copied and transformed into things like cassettes, CDs, DVDs, MP3s – even ringtones – for public use. In other words when it is reproduced by a device or machine. CAPASSO is responsible for licensing your music and collecting fees from music users like radio stations and advertising agencies, DJs and anyone who makes copies, cover versions or compilation CDs or even when it’s made available for legal download on the internet. Once you sign up with this body you get to reap the Mechanical Rights of your music. KOPIKEN which is the closest equivalent cites the need for more deterrent enforcement measures especially on the digital front and they mostly handle books not music.

In the United States there is an organisation known as the Future of Music Coalition (FMC) whose mandate is to make sure that musicians are compensated fairly and transparently for their work. They change their reports based on ongoing litigation, business model development and federal policymaking. FMC does its best to keep up with these changes and update the infographics accordingly.
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These are working mechanisms in other countries that make sure that every element in the creative process is profitable and there are checks and balances to ensure transparency in administering the law in regards to intellectual property. As an artist it is your responsibility to keep abreast with changes in the system and monitor your music.

In April 2015 there was an app launched called Pata Beat which was to ensure that everytime an artiste’s song was downloaded the artist would be able to track the numbers and therefore have a chance for transparency. It is not clear whether the app ever took off maybe due to lack of interest from players in the industry. Kenyan Music is getting airplay in other East African countries and artistes are not reaping from that. In May 2015 there was a plan by the Copyright Management East Africa to get Tanzania media and other establishments in the country  to pay loyalties to Kenyan artistes. This can only happen if artistes register with these bodies. These are all opportunities that have not been fully exploited that are potential goldmines.

Finally what is evident is that the government needs to take a more active role in streamlining the industry. The average person will continue to download music for free if there are no laws that can stop them. Get involved and work together with the Copyright Society of Kenya. Make it a requirement by law for media houses to pay up because MCSK can only go so far .

Here are some of the tweets on the matter.

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