Q&A Kenya Copyright Board

The Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) was established to administer and enforce copyright and related rights in Kenya. The board registers copyright works of musical, audiovisual, literary and artistic nature. Mr Sigei talked to Financial Standard about the board’s insights.

The creative sector has been expected to be among the key creators of employment but appears not to have lived up to these expectations. Why has it performed below par?

This sector remains in the grey. Most people run it as a side hustle and hence it is largely not run professionally. This has made it problematic for its growth. Because of the non-mainstream nature, the industry does not have access to funds through investments. You hardly find new capital coming in.  There are a few firms like telecom companies and media houses that are coming up with platforms for distribution of music and other content but these are few and far between. Start-up capital for artists is not available and banks rarely finance upcoming artists.

Piracy is a key concern for artists and may worsen due to digitisation. How are you staying ahead of the crime?

In terms of hard copy piracy, it is going down because of this transition while digital piracy is going up. But overall piracy has grown and digitisation is fuelling its growth at an even faster rate. We also do not have a legal framework to fight digital piracy. However, a Bill in the Senate (the Kenya Copyright Amendment Bill) provides for measures to fight piracy online. We have clauses such as one on Internet Service Provider (ISP) liability. If you as the owner of copyrighted material notice that your movie is on a website, you can contact the ISP to take it down.

Kecobo has in the past raised concerns about governance in the agencies that collect and remit royalties to artists. Is it still an area of concern for you?

There are serious governance challenges with the Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) that collect royalties on behalf of artists and remit this money to them. We have felt compelled as Government to take up some roles to protect the artists. Through the Bill, the Board will ensure proper governance in these organisations and the rights of the artists are not abused.

Shouldn’t you as State play a peripheral role of enabling an industry as opposed to getting into the management of entities?

That is right. The government should regulate. But in the case of the CMOs, they have sunk to certain lows to the extent that the artists might never benefit. Take for instance a situation where one of the boards held 52 meetings in one year or basically a meeting per week and every board member is paid Sh7,000 per meeting. It is also not uncommon to find a meeting going on for three days and there are really no issues to be discussed. So, we are asking them to keep us in the loop about their meetings as a cost control measure.

How engaged will you be in the management of CMOs?

Some of the provisions in the Bill include sending an inspector to the CMOs and firms will have to comply with the recommendations or face penalties. There is also provision for forensic audit when Kecobo feels that things are not right. When MCSK was doing well, it was collecting over Sh450 million. it is also prudent that directors have minimal qualifications.

How much in royalties should artists through their management organisations collect today?

If well organised, they can collect Sh1 billion and above annually, which should grow over time. But they have to be efficient and do away with infighting. The minimum they should be paying their members is Sh600 million or even Sh700 million. At Sh400 million currently, it means the artists are getting about a third of what they should be getting. When you look at the financial statements, the artists might not be getting the true value. There could be another set of books, which raises a lot of questions.

What about Copyright Board roles that are devolved?

Governors do not seem to know what to do with that area. Last year, we found a county that allocated Sh11 million to culture out of Sh4 billion annual budget. Their staff remuneration within that standalone department is more than the budget allocated to the team to undertake their work.