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Politicians should stop exploiting musicians

By Edward Sigei | November 6th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Musician Julius Owino (Juliani). [Courtesy]

Reports of unauthorised use of music belonging to Juliani in a political video has elicited animated debate on social media. Unauthorised use of recorded music in political campaigns is not a uniquely Kenyan problem. Similar complaints have been reported during America’s presidential campaign.

Politics interact with music intimately since music is an effective tool of political mobilisation. In many cases, the interaction is mutually beneficial, but in a number of cases it is an abusive relationship.

Instances where the interaction is beneficial include when politicians commission a song, musicians licence a song, politicians pay for public performance licence or when artistes are contracted to perform during political events.

Commissioning of a song involves a party or a political candidate contracting an artiste to record and sometimes perform a song or a number of songs for their campaign. The default ownership of the song in this case lies with the political personality or entity that commissions the work. In this and other cases, parties are advised to enter into a written contract. From my experience, this ideal position is quite rare since political entities seldom sign contracts or complete payment.

Licensing of a song is another ideal situation that would be of benefit to artistes. Many may recall the use of the Gidi Gidi and Maji Maji song ‘Unbwogable’ in the 2002 campaigns by National Rainbow Coalition. That ought to have been authorised by the authors through a contract and a handsome fee paid to them.

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The fact is when politicians identify a song that reflects the theme of their campaigns, they often use it and by the time copyright owners reach out, it is too late. It is advisable that political formations first formally seek authorisation through a licensing agreement.

In spite of political formations having a few theme songs, a lot of music from various artistes is used during campaigns. This is where the need to pay for a public performance licence comes in. Political formations are advised to best pay for the music they use for political mobilisations through the Collective Management Organisations (CMOs). Kenya Association of Music Producers, Performers Rights Society of Kenya and Music Copyright Society of Kenya are the music CMOs currently licensed by Kenya Copyright Board.

Artistes may also benefit from these political events if they are contracted to perform at the events. Politicians and parties usually hire popular artistes to perform at their rallies. In most cases, artistes are paid quite well since their star power also attracts audiences to the campaign. However, in some instances, full payments are delayed or remain unpaid, causing bad blood between them and the politicians.

Generally, artistes suffer in silence after they are denied their dues. In a few cases, legal action, starting with cease and desist letters and injunctions, follow. In many cases, the matters are amicably settled.

There are also cases where politicians fail to pay for the use of music in public performances. As a consequence, royalties cannot be paid by CMOs to artistes. Fortunately, the two major formations in the last elections paid for their public performance licences.


Withdraw support

An artiste allowing their work to be used in any campaign carries some risks if the cause their music is being used to support is unpopular or objectionable to their fans. The same applies in the case where an artiste withdraws or protests the use of their music by a party or cause that turns out to be quite popular with their fans.

This has consequences as the artiste’s fans may withdraw their support from them.

There are, however, emerging issue touching on visual artistes quest to earn from these political events. Of late visual artistes are making paintings of celebrities and politicians.

The authors then push their followers on social media to reach the politicians or celebrities to pay for the pieces of work. The jury is still out there as to whether this is an ethical practice.

A word of advice to the politicians and political parties; pay the artistes upfront and sign contracts with them or they will sing songs to correct the previous impression they gave to the public of you.

To the artistes, be alert and assert your rights fiercely. Sign contracts and get your money before any political performance.

Copyright Laws Artists' rights Political campaigns
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