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How Oneko's law saved KBC from paying royalties to Britain

By Patrick Alushula | April 18th 2017

Did you know that the national broadcaster KBC used to pay royalties to Britain on every music played by Kenyan airwaves?

By 1966, KBC, then known as Voice of Kenya (VOK) was paying £12,000 (Sh240,000) as royalties on every imported record played. (1£ was equivalent to Sh20).

One of the ever-green show, Sundowner, which has been the station’s ‘trademark’ since 1950s would still be fetching Britons a fortune. However, thanks to Achieng’ Oneko, the then Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Kenya introduced its own copyright legislation though the House of Representatives to save VOK from the annual fee. “Under the copyright law, Kenya had to pay for every record played by the VOK. The money went to the United Kingdom and not Kenya companies,” the Minister was captured in the 1966 East African Standard.

He told the House that in places like America, it was considered that if a record was played on air, this constituted advertising and owners of the record could not be paid anything in addition.

 The royalties, running since 1962, were mostly being taken up by Britons since Kenya was being governed by British copyright laws.

Huge cash

At the time, one pound was an equivalent of Sh20. This means that for five years up to 1966, VOK had incurred Sh1.2 million- quite a huge sum of money back in the days.

The copyright Act of 1956 of the United Kingdom was extended to Kenya in 1963 and with a few modifications, it became part of Kenya’s laws.

According to Mr Oneko, the then copyright law was highly complicated and could only work satisfactorily in a developed country like Britain.

“Since Kenya does not export records herself, there is no counterbalancing inflows of royalties to offset this amount,” said Oneko in details captured in 1966 Hansard paper.

Kenya needed a copyright law suitable for its needs. By introducing the law, Kenya was at par with other independent African States such as Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Zambia and Malawi.

Supporting the bill that led to the first Kenyan copyright laws was Senator P.N Munyasia of Kitui - terming it the “most sensible bill that had been brought before the House.”

Today, Kenya has own its copyright laws. The Kenya Copyright Board, a State corporation established under Section 3 of the Copyright Act administers and enforces copyright laws and related rights in Kenya.

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