Artists seek huge pay for copyright

Officials from the Uganda Registration Services Bureau recently presented a final draft to cabinet on the national intellectual property (IP) policy. As cabinet plans to discuss it, players spot some gaps that might impede the much-desired change in the industry, writes ALI TWAHA.

Maurice Kirya is currently battling MTN in court over copyright infringement. PHOTO BY THE OBSERVER
At a time when most companies are leveraging the power of technology and innovations, the theft and infringement of intellectual property (IP) has finally become an issue that government wants to aggressively tackle.
After several consultations, URSB, an institution mandated to register copyright and other related IP rights, have submitted to cabinet a new national IP policy that aims at mitigating some of the concerns, especially in areas of research, arts and technology to stimulate growth.
Abubaker Muhammad Moki, the commissioner, policy development, at the Office of the President, confirmed that cabinet is only waiting for the policy assessment report by their team to examine its likely impact on the industry. The IP policy seeks to empower local entrepreneurs on their innovations.
In Uganda today, there are low levels of IP awareness, particularly in the in- formal sector. Information from URSB indicates that about eight patents were granted in 2015 compared to 207 granted by Kenya in the same period. Despite the low numbers, officials say the figure does not reflect the rate at which new innovations are being churned out, and the research being undertaken.
“For any country to develop, it no longer depends on the traditional factors. Most of the universities do not know that it is important to register an innovation,” Bemanya Twebaze, the registrar general at URSB, said.
Local artists and innovators have had a series of court battles with companies over the infringement on copyright and patents. The constitution does not explicitly provide for the protection of IP.
For years, players in the arts industry have been pushing government to develop an intellectual property policy. One of their main reasons was that the status of copyright in Uganda does not cater for their economic and moral rights.
As such, the new policy recognizes that the level of commercialization of literary work, audio-visual [for example music and films], visual and creative arts through copyright and related IP assets is disproportionately low.
The policy does not provide for clear guidelines on how artists can earn from the emerging online market. Information from UCC shows that at least 16 million Ugandans are now using the internet for entertainment, business and leisure purposes.
The low recognition of importance of creative and cultural industries, high levels of piracy, weak enforcement of copyright legislation, among others, are some of the key challenges that the industry faces.
Additionally, artists have contested their industry being under the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. According to Sylver Kyagulanyi, a music writer, many artists look at music as a business, and not as a cultural aspect.
“When people infringe on copyright, they don’t feel like they are stealing. So, if we have a policy that is clearly identifying this as property, it would bring growth... we have to look at it as something tradable and as a business, away from the traditional approach,” Kyagulanyi said.
He adds that with music under that ministry, government has failed to make creative arts a commercially viable venture. As a result, he says, many get into the industry and quickly abandon it after a short while.
“The problem with the copyright act is basically administration. When we look at Kenya, three quarters of their [copyright] law is basically about the Kenya copyright board. The board will clearly elaborate on how the structure of management and ad- ministration of copyright should be,” Kyagulayi says.
The aspect of administration of copyright remains a big challenge. Artists have tried to push government to develop a national copyright commission that should be mandated to look at copyright issues and promote growth of the industry.
“When you look at our law, that part [administration] is entirely missing,” Kyagulanyi says.
There has been a general lack of coordination among established organisations such as Uganda Performing Rights Society (UPRS) and Uganda Federation of Movie Industry (UFMI), among others, on how copyright issues and piracy should be handled.
In 2015, Angella Katatumba, another musician, sued the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda (ACCU) over copyright infringement on an advertisement jingle. In the final judgment, court held that the use of Katatumba’s song in an advertisement in relation to a campaign for forest conservation did not fall within the fair use exception and amounted to infringement.
In the final verdict, court documents show that ACCU was ordered to pay aggravated damages of Shs 30m for acting in flagrant disregard of Katatumba’s rights for its own benefit. What this case highlighted is that even if a copyrighted product is not to be used for commercial purposes, seeking consent is very crucial.
On April, 27, 2017, the Commercial court started hearing a case between MTN Uganda and Maurice Kirya after the telecom firm offered some of Kirya’s songs to its subscribers as callback tunes. Although the case is still ongoing, sources close to Kirya said the telecom giant is seeking for an out-of-court settlement.
On patents, Daniel Byamugisha, an innovator of EDAD e-Payment Limited, also dragged Bank of Uganda and MTN Uganda to court, claiming infringement on his patented mobile wallet innovation.
He told The Observer last year that Mokash, a product of MTN and Commercial Bank of Africa, is similar to his innovation that was running on the MTN system. Mokash enables MTN subscribers to save and get loans by using their mobile phones.
Edgar Tabaro, a business development partner at Karuhanga, Tabaro and Associates, said most of the initiatives being pushed through the policy already exist. He said the policy won’t change much of what is happening in the film and music industry.
“The biggest challenge is that knowledge has not been seen as a commodity or as something trad- able. If that is missing, the knowledge economy cannot take off,” Tabaro said.
“Most of these enforcement mechanisms [on IP infringement and piracy] exist. We have the courts, the laws, everything is available. But the problem is their enforcement and administration.”
“There is urgent need to strengthen the justice, law and order sector for more active participation in enforcement of litigation and regulations.
This Article was first published in The Observer Newspaper


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