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Sh44m cheque for artistes amid CMOs’ vicious war with Kecobo

By Stevens Muendo | August 7th 2021

CMOs officials and artists address the press at Kamp offices. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

After years of earning little or no royalties, Kenyan artistes can now smile. Last week, the Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) released Sh44 million to Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) to be distributed to artistes. This is the first distribution this year.  

The distribution started on Wednesday this week, with Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), one of the three CMOs alongside Performance Rights Society of Kenya (PRiSK) and the Kenya Association of Music Producers (Kamp), holding discussions with its members to explain the formula of payment it will adopt -to avoid complaints in future from those who may be disgruntled.

During the last MCSK distribution, Sauti Sol was the highest-paid, taking home Sh400,000 - that being pay-out for their work during the second half of 2019.

Gloria Muliro, Eunice Njeri, Bahati King Kaka, and Octopizzo are among the top earners who took home a good chunk of the Sh37.5 million that was distributed then.

The release of the money comes a month after a showdown between Kecobo, the regulatory body that oversees CMOs. On the other hand, CMOs manage artistes’ rights in their copyright works.

Tough talk

Armed with an audit report, Kecobo put pressure on MCSK, PRiSK and Kamp, citing irregularities in the CMOs’ management.

Talking tough on the misappropriation allegations, Kecobo Executive Director Edward Sigei said his board had forwarded a number of complaints to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations for action. He was optimistic the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) would crack the whip.

The matter also caused a storm during a Senate committee hearing with some of the musicians’ representatives criticising Kecobo for failing to end the squabbles that have bedeviled the creative industry for years. Others took issue with the CMOs. But by the end of the day, all everyone wanted was to have the underlying problems solved once and for all.

Kenya Copyright Board Executive Director Edward Sigei with the then PRISK CEO Angela Ndambuki during stakeholders meeting in 2017. [Courtesy]

Those present at the session wondered why their money was being held. It fell back to Kecobo and the new joint collection and distribution system that CMOs do not want to hear of. Kecobo remained put.

Kecobo might have fired the first salvo, but the tables seemed to have turned with CMOs terming Kecobo’s move a “witch-hunt and laced with propaganda”.

With the CMOs on a war footing, Kecobo cuts a lone figure on the opposing side. But this is not new with the parties having had frosty relations since 2016.

The bone of contention is on regulation, licensing, freezing of CMO and the new combined awarding licensing system that is said to take away Sh85 million from the collections monthly.

The digital royalty collection module was established to better account for royalties collected, distributed or spent by the societies.

New structures

Speaking to the Saturday Standard this week, MCSK officials said their integrity was being discredited with the aim of inciting its more than 20,000 rights holders.

The team said it had put in new structures to prove that it had nothing to hide from its members.

Having held its annual general meeting a month ago, the society said it was ready to unveil its new face and ease operations through an all-inclusive consultative process. 

“In February 2020, the tripartite board of directors of MCSK, Kamp and PRiSK resolved that they shall not engage the services of Liberty Afrika Technologies Limited, a Content service Provider, but in March 2020,  the CEOs of MCSK, Kamp and PRiSK signed an agreement awarding licensing system tender to Liberty Afrika Technologies Limited.

“On March 25, 2020, the CEOs expressed their reservations in the manner of signing the agreement and formally withdrew their signatures to the agreement,” a statement forwarded to the Saturday Standard by MCSK reads.

This has been a thorny issue since the tendering process for a new ICT system started. It is one that cost some officials of the CMOs their jobs. 

The Kamp team too claims the new ICT system was imposed on CMOs.

Kecobo, on the other hand, says the new digital royalty collection module was established to better account for royalties collected and distributed. 

“The system allows multiple payment options as may be chosen by music users. All payments are then deposited into an authorised joint CMO account for transparency. Media monitoring system monitors play music in various radio media to help in scientific payment of royalties to creatives who are members of the CMOs,” says Kecobo.

Media personality Catherine Kasavuli and singer Suzzane Gachukia during the 2014 MCSK awards ceremony at the Carnivore grounds, Nairobi. [Courtesy]

Even then, MCSK says the system is still under construction and cannot monitor music usage and distribution of royalties as alluded. T

“Liberty Afrika through a letter dated June 25, 2021, has since written a demand letter to the CMOs demanding Sh79,896,208 for the use of their system. The amount being demanded from the CMOs is an amount that they otherwise would not have incurred had they maintained their initial system which was still functional,” said MCSK officials.

Faulting the new collection and distribution system, Kamp claims that since it was established, it has distributed royalties amounting to Sh344 million, adding that had the circumstances been more favourable, it would have collected and distributed more.

In 2018, Kamp collected Sh52 million, with PRiSK collecting Sh66 million the same year and Sh91 million in 2019. The society collected Sh76 million in 2017, according to records with the Saturday Standard.

MCSK’s licence was not renewed in 2017, a season when the society was in and out of court with Kecobo over financial statements and a list of royalties paid to members.

The MCSK officials say the society incurred huge financial losses that year, adding that this is when woes with Kecobo begun.

Before then, they had even started a benevolent fund for members.

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