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Uganda’s New Copy right Law to profit artists

In August 2006, Uganda repealed the Copyright Act of 1964 that had been inherited from its former British colonial masters, thereby replacing it with an improved law; The Copy Right and Neighboring Rights Act of 2006. Unlike the former law which was civil in nature but largely unused in litigation to the detriment that many believed Uganda operated without any law protecting the rights of artists’ works, the new copyright law is beginning to bear fruits. The most fundamental difference between the old copyright law and the new one is that the latter has both civil and criminal provisions embedded in it whereas the old law lacked enforcement mechanisms.
The new copyright act provides for sentences ranging from prison time of one year to fines not exceeding 50 currency points.

According to Mr. James Wasula, the General Secretary of Uganda Performing Rights Society (UPRS) that manages and administers copyright on behalf of its local members through assignments and by Reciprocal Representation Agreements for its foreign members, the broadcaster will, with effect from this year- 2008, pay royalties for playing artists’ works on air. Wasula says that for a long time individuals and organizations have continued infringing on the rights of artists, pirating, duplicating and playing their music for economic gains with impunity. Now with the law is in place, this will definitely come to end especially if all stakeholders work as partners. The mishaps of the past are attributed to ignorance and the fact that many broadcasters, hotels, restaurants, clubs, shop keepers, college graduates and school dropouts who have failed to find jobs have resorted to burning counterfeit CDs for a living. Wasula explains that a survey conducted in 2007 in 29 town centers revealed that each dealer earns about 10, 000 Ugandan shillings (US$6) each per day through pirating.

The new copyright law seeks to provide for the protection of literary, scientific, artistic and all other intellectual works and their neighboring rights, and to provide for other related matters. It also seeks to protect all artists and the agents who sign contracts with the artists and pay an agreed-upon sum of money to them so that they can then sell those artists’ music to the public. Those who sell music illegally may now find themselves in court, where they might be ordered to pay damages to the artist as well as be required to destroy any illegally obtained music in their possession. The new law also protects the artist 50 years after the ones’ death.

Wasula says that they, as UPRS, a private company championing artists’ right have experienced massive problems as the would be culprits have outwitted the courts of law by claiming that there is another intermediary body that claims to be working for artists and as such, they are not sure who to pay royalties to. He says this trade adversely affects the music industry as the legitimate music dealers are competing unfavorably with pirates so much so that the music distributors are unable to pay commensurate remuneration to artists. As if that is not bad enough, with the mushrooming FM radio, the music played on these stations has not been purchased legitimately. Wasula explains that broadcasters alone play about 2 million songs for about 45 million times per year on the FM stations alone. If they were to sign contracts, this would translate into 2 million contracts in just one year, and the artists would be much better off.

According to the new Copyright Act 2006, Radio and T.V stations will have to pay an artist whose song or work has been aired, even 50 years after his or her death. Wasula adds that radio and T.V stations would stand to gain because artists will have to subscribe for their songs to be aired for a certain period of time on the respective stations. This would in a way legitimize the “bribes” radio presenters have been getting from artists before playing their music. Enforcing the new copyright law many not be that easy for records at UPRS show that only 3 radio stations out of the licensed over 100 broadcasters in Uganda have signed up to pay royalties to artists. Many stations look at paying royalties for airing a song as a cost that will eat into the stations’ profits. Sections of T.V and Radio stations proprietors argue that by playing artists’ music on air, they are promoting the artists and their works among the public. They therefore argue that musicians gain more than broadcaster when their music is played free of charge! With this kind of thinking, it may take some time to sensitize all stakeholders and at worst culprits being dragged to courts of law before all can abide by the stipulations of the act in its entirety.

You will recall a lawsuit at the commercial courts in 2004, when Chance Nalubega sued Fred Mukubira, a music producer, for copying and selling her album Byansobera without her prior consent. Many of us, artists inclusive, dismissed the case as  rather odd and that Nalubega was on a wild goose chase. But when judgment was passed the following year in February 2005, Nalubega was 10 million Ugandan Shillings richer, all from her music producer then and defendant, Fred Mukubira. Court also ordered Mukubira to burn all the remaining 853 cassette labels in his possession and restrained him from selling any copies of the album. This jurisdiction was in the archaic copyright law but it reigned supreme, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the new law is effectively enforced. Ultimately, it should require that all stakeholder including; broadcasters, promoters, producers and the public abide by it, while giving artists exclusive economic and moral rights to protect their work and derive maximum benefit from their efforts!