It is not unlikely that you will hear or see a Ugandan entertainer, as often as possible complaining that they are losing too much! That they do not benefit from their sweat. That they benefit less than they actually should, from Uganda’s entertainment industry, mainly because we do not have a copyright law in Uganda. Actually, while I should sympathise with them, I instead do the right thing-get completely annoyed with them. To make it very clear, there is a fully functional copyright law in Uganda-the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, 2006. Even before enactment of this law mentioned, there was a law on copyright-the Copyright Act, Cap. 215 Now I do not get it when our beloved entertainers tell us that we do not have such laws.
This is even made worse by the media. You will, so often read in papers, articles written by responsible reporters, approved by qualified editors, that Uganda lacks laws on intellectual property. To be honest, it makes me sad.
Look at New Vision, Friday, November 30th 2012—the PAKASA pullout, Page 30. The writer goes: “Unlike in the developed economies like the US where comedians have unions that protect their works against piracy, most comedians in Uganda steal colleague’s jokes and get away with it…..” Has the writer heard about the Uganda Performing Rights Society? Did he bother to find out if any of Ugandan comedians has entered protection agreements with the society?
What makes me even sadder is the fact that our entertainers are examining the wrong problem. The question to be answered now in Uganda should be: What can we do to make the Copyright laws work? I will not give an answer to this, as I think it is better and fit for the people employed in the industry (both directly and indirectly) to answer that question. I instead will focus on why I think the law on copyright has failed to take root. Why, despite having a very broad and highly inclusive law, we still have major problems with finding a solution to scanty protection of intellectual property, especially copyright in music in Uganda.
Uganda still has a “slow” economy, despite the steady growth experienced in the last couple of years. This simply means that the poverty levels are still high. Music, as it is today is a luxury, not a need. This means that for one to spend on music, he must have his needs covered, and then buy a CD out of the surplus. This is unlikely as majority of Ugandans still borrow money from the nearest SACCO, just to buy food for the night. This means that if the law is fully implemented, the entertainment industry, the entertainers will be at the losing end. If we cannot access their music from the nearest “kibanda”, we shall not access it at all, as we cannot afford to buy it in music stores. This means that they will lose free publicity. The Ugandan entertainer would rather have his music listened to, freely than take a thousand years to penetrate the broke market.
Entertainers Vs Media Houses.
I am mainly talking about TV and Radio. Let me be frank. Our entertainers need TV/Radio more than TV/Radio really needs them. While the media houses have an alternative (foreign music; which has a better following) our entertainers have no alternative. This simply means that the TV/Radio does not have to pay any entertainer to air his/her music. Actually, the entertainer could pay the Radio/TV handsomely to have his/her music aired! Strict enforcement of the copyright laws would only work to the disadvantage of the entertainers. If the media houses ignore local music, they have nothing to lose; they can stay in business buy playing foreign music; which is highly popular in Uganda. Look back at the 90s and early 2000s, and you will know what I am talking about. Unfortunately, if the entertainers demand for pay from media houses for playing their music, the TV/radios will do one thing: stop playing the music. Who will lose in such a case? Who needs publicity in the market? I really feel for our entertainers.
Shows and daily bread.
On every single day of the week, a Ugandan singer/comedian will be performing somewhere. At a bar, club, formal corporate function etc; thanks to our media houses. They provide the publicity by airing entertainment products from the industry. To be concise, our entertainers survive on public performances, other than revenue from CD sales. That is why there is a concert in Kampala every single weekend. Someone will be launching a song, and album, a video. Who knows, next time we shall even pay to attend a launch of a beat, or an album cover!
All these shows are possible because we have TV and Radio. Because these two play the music and we actually listen to radio. We then develop interest in the music. Finally we part with our hard-earned cash and go for some of those not so important shows and concerts. Now, unless the radios play the music, everyday; unless the TV airs the video every day, the Ugandan singer will find it hard to attract us to his concert. Why? Because we do not know his/her music. Because we are even not aware that he/she sings! Thanks to TV and Radio, Eddy Kenzo can afford to put some posho on his dinner table.
If police says that before Radio Simba plays Eddy Kenzo’s music, it should first produce evidence that Eddy Kenzo’s management got payment first, I bet my arm on this: Eddy Kenzo will mobilize fellow singers to storm police and demand to know why Police is interfering with their business! Look! He is interfering with the operation on the copyright law and he does not even know it!
I have always said it, that the reason the law will not work is because our entertainers do not want the very law they so miss! Bobi Wine, who has made something out of himself out of our music industry, is my witness. Asked if they should arrest those chaps in kiosks down town, who spend the whole day duplicating, burning and selling singers’ music (without their knowledge/approval),Bobi Wine too asked why “hustlers” “his ghetto people” should be arrested for struggling to earn a living? He said that those boys are on the street hustling and they should be left alone. When he is told that those boys are actually earning from the sweat of other people; cheating the rightful owners of the music, Bobi Wine insisted that Kampala is like that! Kuyiya. I guess you see my point.
May be he is right. One thing I know about Bobi Wine is: he is like my grandmother! He will never give you a direct mother. Maybe, maybe he was saying: Look, those boys are down the marketing chain for a reason. Since I cannot afford to do media marketing reviews for my music, it is those boys you call cheats that are doing it for me. Actually, that is what happens. The music industry in Uganda benefits when the copyright laws are broken! Those boys are doing the work proper Record label companies ought to be doing. The market and promote the artiste at no cost!
Now this question will have 80% of Ugandan singers throw raw eggs at me. But I still will ask it: Is most of Ugandan music on the market worth spending a penny on? I leave it to the individual. How many Ugandans (I mean those who can afford) go to a store and buy an original CD by a Ugandan artiste? I have not done research on this. But the singers’ confessions give me the right to hold an opinion that those Ugandans are very few. Yet those CDs are actually relatively cheap! Just imagine the police and the copyright protection bodies decided to fully implement the law, meaning that if you wanted Mr.Mosh’s music, you must go to his stall at Nakumatt and buy it and listen to it at home. Or, maybe you must log into your iTunes account and buy the music online; how may Ugandans would actually do it? Yet I personally have bought original CDs of Maurice Kiirya, Juliana Kanyomozi, Suzan Kerunen, Bobi Wine, Sarah Ndagire, Navio…and I am waiting to buy Naava’s original CD. To cut the long story short, our singers must produce quality music before they start calling for full implementation of the copyright laws, otherwise, it will be them to lose. Well, that is the paradox our entertainment industry is.
The bright side however is that they know it: that the law, in the current circumstances works against them. The odds do not favour them. That is why I said maybe they are right to play the hypocrite. Demand for the law they actually hate! But the industry is growing. More quality music is hitting our airwaves, production has improved; we now have structures—a bit like real Record label companies. And our industry is actually peaceful.