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Licensing woes: An artistes' beef like no other

Entertainment
 Sol Generation CEO William Nanjero, recording and performing artist Bien Aime Baraza, Chairperson Kenya Association of Music Producers(KAMP) Angela Ndambuki and Kenya Association of Music Producers(KAMP) CEO Maurice Okoth addressing the press.[Robert Tomno, Standard]

The fuss started when the Kenya Copyright Board gave a one-year license to the Performing and Audio-Visual Rights Society of Kenya (PAVRISK) to oversee music and performer rights.

This did not go down well with other collection management organizations and other entertainment entities, including the Kenya Association of Music Producers, which had just paid the royalties owed to its members.

The Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) defended the move, saying it would make it easier to regulate the affairs of royalty collection and distribution.

This has caused an uproar among artistes, with a section holding peaceful demonstrations, petitioning Cabinet Secretary for Gender, Culture, the Arts and Heritage Aisha Jumwa to intervene.

“Today, we have come to cry to the President through CS Aisha Jumwa because KECOBO has licensed a single CMO that did not meet conditions set in law. More specifically, we wanted KECOBO to stop licensing organizations that are stealing or misappropriating rights owners' money, and from the forensic audit KECOBO did, PRISK or PAVRISK had artiste money misappropriated,” said Justus Ngemu, the Music Associations Alliance of Kenya (MAAK) chairman during a press conference.

MAAK Coordinator Saul Isikuri said PAVRISK is illegal as it has not conducted elections as required and its officials are occupying the office illegally.

“They have been using the court to avoid this, and now we are seeing them in bed with KECOBO, which should not be allowed. This is why we are demonstrating as the illegal move will kill the industry,” he said.

The Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) has already said it will be seeking legal redress on the matter, claiming its members' rights were violated despite having met all requirements that KECOBO sought.

“We then shockingly received the announcement from KECOBO that PAVRISK, formerly PRISK, has been selected as being the 'most transparent, efficient and having the capacity to collect and distribute royalties for all rights' through a press statement dated June 6, 2024. We have since received a letter from KECOBO citing reasons for denying the operation license,” said KAMP Board Chair Angela Ndambuki.

According to KAMP, PRISK has been cited under a forensic audit report commissioned by the regulator over suspected misappropriation of royalties.

“After the forensic report, we were then required to report to the Directorate Of Criminal Investigations (DCI), which we did and were duly issued an OB number OB:41/09/03/2023 as attached. To date, no action has been taken against PRISK and its CEO Joseph Njagih, who has been directly implicated in the forensic audit report. We have followed up the matter with the DCI to no avail,” said Ndambuki.

PAVRISK has in the past been accused of misappropriation of funds by its members.

An audit report seen by Pulse had it that Sh28,611,747 was misappropriated, with former chair Ephantus Safari’s quest to see the money reverted to members not seeing the light of day.

“The withdrawal of case HCCC No. 326 of 2015 is an example of the rot in the music sector. This rot has resulted in artistes leading miserable lives and languishing in poverty,” said Safari.

With the guns firmly trained on PAVRISK, KAMP has also accused the former of not making any formal declaration of distribution of royalties since the year 2022.

“It is only in 2023 that some funds were selectively paid out to some members as distributions, and mainly to members who were most vocal against PRISK for non-payment of royalties. Now then, how does a society that has not made any declarations for distributions since 2022 become the selected CMO now entrusted to handle funds for all creatives? How this happened is unfathomable," said Ndambuki.

"KECOBO itself raised this issue in a letter to PRISK dated May 13, 2024; it stated that these are issues raised by its members and that PRISK needed to address them as its license application was being processed.”

KAMP now says it will be working with other like-minded organizations representing other rights so that they can have a seamless process where all parties are involved.

KAMP, which has a membership of 1,600 members, is also in discussions where, if preferable, one CMO can collect the royalties but then send the 70 percent for distribution to the respective societies where a member has assigned its rights and where that member is comfortable being domiciled.

However, PAVRISK CEO Antony Njagih has denied the allegations against the organization he heads.

“Kenyans are always skeptical about new things, and I think this is just the case. We have just started working and we have already put plans in place to ensure that artistes get more money, and the future is without a doubt promising. We currently have 4,814 members and have opened the portal for free registration. This week alone, we have received over 150 new applicants,” he said.

Njagih said PAVRISK is looking at recruiting 30,000 new members, having approximated that there are over 300,000 artistes, most of whom are not registered with any CMO.

In a defiant conjecture, KECOBO Chairman Joshua Kutuny and acting Executive Director George Nyakweba held a consultative meeting with directors of the Medium Liquor Traders Association (MELTA), where they discussed issues to do with partnership and training by KECOBO.

“The team also deliberated on the need for MELTA to work with the newly licensed CMO as they negotiate for a new tariff for music users and the need for MELTA to actively participate in the amendment of the copyright law. Any organization that will attempt to collect royalties on behalf of creatives without KECOBO's license will be going against the law and legal action will be taken against them,” said Kutuny.

The chairman said the collection of royalties from music users has increased since the new CMO was licensed - from Sh250,000 a day to Sh600,000.

Pundits in the industry argue that the issue facing the regulator stems from issues that began during the last regime.

“When former President Uhuru Kenyatta moved KECOBO from the Attorney General’s office, where it had been domiciled, to the ICT Ministry under former CS Joe Mucheru, artistes thought they would be saved," said event organizer and artivist Annitah Mbuguah.

She added, "The transfer of KECOBO from one ministry to another and the potential merger with KIPI are indeed concerning issues that could have an impact on the stability and functioning of the organization. Such shifts in oversight and potential restructuring could create uncertainty and challenges for both staff and stakeholders.”

Mbuguah said that any changes should be carefully considered and implemented to minimize disruption and ensure the regulator's continued effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate.

“We know that the government is keen on making this happen, but it is also imperative that stakeholders should be engaged in the process and their concerns addressed to ensure transparency and accountability in decision-making,” she said.

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