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Musical wars: Artistes fight over distribution of Skiza Tunes pay

Eunice Njeri looked agitated as she answered questions directed to her. She had no make-up on as most celebrities would in a live TV interview, she seemed to care more about her rights than her image.

"I got to see the accounts and how much my songs, which were signed to Liberty Afrika, make and I am not happy," the celebrated gospel artiste said on a popular Friday night show. "I was told my song made Sh1 million in a six-month period, when in fact it had made about Sh24 million."

The other interviewees, who included Shiro Wa GP, Lydia Joy Kaimuri and Grace Muna pointed out the same thing. These Premium Rate Serve Providers (PRSPs) made much more out of each song an artiste signed to them than the amount the artiste made.

"Approximately, 90 per cent of local artistes do not do due diligence before they sign their songs to these PRSPs, and as much is it shows ignorance on our part, it ties our hands. You cannot remix the song, you do not own the song and the only money you can make from the song is if you hawk your CDs, which does not work in Kenya," explained Eunice Njeri.

When Safaricom, which charges 75 cents daily for Skiza subscribers or a Sh1 premium per tune daily, started Skiza Tunes in 2009, they contracted PSRPs with the deal stating that the content providers obtain all rights when giving content to the telecommunications giant. It is this clause which saw the likes of Eunice Njeri and Shiro Wa GP give out their songs to PRSPs without thinking twice.

According to the artistes, they have been making millions for these companies because there was no information or data allayed to them on how much their songs were worth.

"The value of the music we give out is not known. We do not have access to data even from MCSK and we have no knowledge of what the contracts we signed means," explained Lydia.

About two weeks ago, Safaricom announced that it was paying out Sh152 million in total from Skiza Tunes, with Sh141.675 million going to Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) and Performers' Rights Society of Kenya (PRiSK). Sh10.3 million of the money will be paid to PRSPs.

The money has been accumulating since July of last year, as a court case, filed by some artistes who want their money channelled through PRSPs instead of collective management organisations (CMOs), was ongoing. The period covered is between July and February of this year.

But Kawira Mugambi, the general manager of PRiSK differs with the figures given by a press release from Safaricom.

"We, as the CMOs, received Sh152 million. Two PRSPs; Liberty Africa and Expedia, received Sh77 million. There are also individual artistes who received their royalties directly from Safaricom. Whatever we all did receive is just 15 per cent of the entire revenue," said Kawira, with her figure indicating that Safaricom made over Sh1.5 billion from Skiza during the given time.

Simple mathematics from a deal, which sees Safaricom retain 85 per cent of the collection shows the telecom giant made a cool Sh1.297 billion.

From the math, one can easily tell that these artistes, who number 5,000 make millions for PRSPs.

"We (CMOs) have been talking with Safaricom for about five years now on a renegotiated, better, deal. We feel the artistes and anyone with a right to a song have to earn more and directly, even as the PRSPs provide the content. The money from Safaricom was released using the status quo that existed, in that the percentages remained the same.

"Our members need the money to record music and pay their bills. There was no need to make them suffer," added Kawira. "With the money received, the artistes will each get a single cheque from the CMOs, not different cheques from each CMO they are registered to."

The PRSPs used to exclusively pay artistes, with producers not getting a cent of the money. These producers wanted part of the money, as some of the songs were partly theirs, leading to the CMOs meeting Safaricom to sort out the issue.

"In July last year, we finally reached a new deal that would have seen Safaricom retain 85 per cent but on a reducing scale that would see the percentages paid to artistes through CMOs increase to 20 percent in three years' time. Safaricom had agreed that the artistes deserved a better deal," said Kawira.

So, does the new deal indicate that these PRSPs, which had enjoyed a monopoly, face a bleak future, with artistes now aware of how much their songs make for these technology companies?

According to former MCSK CEO Maurice Okoth, who is now running a consultancy firm that deals with intellectual property rights, PRSPs are here to stay.

"When we were negotiating the deal with Safaricom about a year ago, we made sure PRSPs do not suffer. You know, they are content providers too. Back then, we made sure they got paid a service fee, which is now 5 per cent, down from 7.5 per cent. When you look at it in the whole context, 5 per cent is not a small figure still. However, according to the agreement, CMOs are the ones expected to license and distribute royalties to the creatives," said Maurice.

Artistes, performers and producers are upbeat about the new development. With CMOs signing cheques regularly these days, money is trickling back to the source.

"CMOs exist to make sure its members benefit fully from their works," said record producer and gospel artiste Robert 'R Kay' Kamanzi, who is the chairman of PRiSK.

"This new deal negotiated means members get almost the full amount minus administrative charges which are just 2 per cent. PRSPs usually took 50 to 75 per cent, which is way too high. This deal is also inclusive because there are many right-holders in a song and PRSPs used to pay only one, therefore creating conflicts with other right holders. CMOs will pay every right holder," said R Kay.

With the windfall, Pulse sought to find out which artistes made the much from ringtones, which are very popular with Kenyans from all walks of life.

"We had a good mix of gospel and secular artistes as the leading earners. But one thing stood out, vernacular music is doing really well on the Skiza platform," revealed Kawira, who added that the top-earner collected Sh24 million. "Over 20 artistes collected Sh1 million and more," revealed MSCK Chairman Bernard Mukaisi. "But the biggest group has artistes collecting between Sh500,000 and a million. Those artistes with no contracts have already been paid as we sort out our members."

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