Reprieve for musicians as Kecobo asked to release

Kecobo CEO Edward Sigei. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The Parliamentary Committee on Sports and Culture has asked the Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) to release withheld licenses and funds belonging to artistes’ royalty-collection agencies.

The directive was issued by the committee chair, Dan Wanyama during a grilling session with Kecobo CEO Edward Sigei and Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) CEO, Joseph Njagih over claims that the two were responsible for the withdrawal of a case in court that saw the parties awarded Sh67 million for artistes’ royalties lose the cash.

The meeting that was convened following a question on the Floor of the House by a Member of Kirinyaga Country Jane Njeri, who is also a former musician, also questioned claims that the two had entered an agreement with a media house without the knowledge of the board members of Directors of their organisations.

“I would like to ask the committee on Sports and Culture to investigate the dealings of the parties to find out if there was any collusion that led to artists losing their Royalties. I also would like to understand the motive behind the withdrawal of this case when the court had already awarded the artists Sh67 million,” Njeri said.

Former PRISK chairman Ephantus Kamau in his submission alleged that the CEOs of the two bodies withdrew the case from court and signed an agreement termed ‘Debt Retirement’ with the said media house without the knowledge of the respective boards. He further alleged that any attempts to intervene saw threats directed at him.

The Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) CEO Maurice Okoth informed the Committee that in the meeting following the signing of the agreement, none of the six directors was aware of the agreement and only learnt of it after it had been signed. The Board’s several invitations to the CEOs to address the matter before them were all ignored without apologies given.

The Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) CEO Ezekiel Mutua said that the regulator Kecobo was frustrating both his organisation and KAMP when it came to awarding licenses. The two artistes’ bodies have not had a license to help them collect royalties on behalf of their members almost for a year. The two leading CMOs in the country had also sought the intervention of the committee on the license issue.

The committee chair, Dan Wanyama, reacting to the allegations, ordered Kecobo to release withheld licenses and funds belonging to the royalty-collecting agencies.

Wanyama, who is also the Webuye West MP said they have issued instructions to Sigei to ensure that by next week, the Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) that have not received their licenses have them.

“The regulator should also ensure the CMOs are supported to enforce royalty collection, particularly from media houses, matatus, as well as hotels and clubs, to enable every artiste to earn from their sweat,” he said.

“We want to resolve the issues that our artistes and the CMOs have with the regulator, and, therefore, create an enabling environment for the artistes and the CMOs to thrive. So far, we have established that the problem here is the regulator,” he added.

The committee took Sigei to task to answer to the allegations the CMOs had levelled against him.

Sigei told the committee that it was the first time that he was coming across the submission and thus needed more time to look into the matter. He also did not committee an explanation as to why Kecobo issued CMOs with interim licences lasting only four months, contrary to six months as provided for in the law.

At this point, the committee chair asked him why he had failed to bring along a legal officer to shed light on crucial matters related to Kecobo’s constitutional role.

“Do you have a legal mind on the board?”, posed Wanyama, as he sought to understand whether Kecobo was led by a board, or the CEO ran the organisation single-handedly.

At this point, the committee agreed with the CMOs’ complaints, turning the heat on the regulator.

Making his submissions to the committee, the MCSK board chair, Lazarus Muli, called for a forensic audit of Kecobo, as well as lifestyle scrutiny of the CEO, saying he was unfit to hold office.

Mutua appealed to the President to step in and save the future of the ‘hustlers’ that he is committed to fighting for.

“These musicians are the real hustlers and need protection from the highest levels of government. We want this industry to flourish,” he said.

To this, the committee chair responded that Parliament would play its role to ensure that artistes earn what they deserve from their trade.

The committee vowed to take appropriate action against anyone found culpable in any actions meant to cripple the music industry.

Former PRISK chairman Ephantus Kamau, who was one of those named in the alleged scandal, denied receiving any illicit money.

The Committee Chair Wanyama assured all the parties involved that the Committee would look into the matter extensively before presenting their findings to the House for debate. 

“This Committee will do what is supposed to be done to clean up the music industry and I want to guarantee you that those found culpable of any wrongdoing will be brought to book,” said Wanyama.

In a letter dated January 12, Kecobo, which happens to be the state regulator of all CMOs noted that the MCSK application lacked key data and went ahead to fault the CMO for non-payment of mandatory fees for licensing.

According to Kecobo, the alleged incomplete application was in contravention of Section 46 of the Copyright Act №12 of 2001 and the Copyright (Collective Management) Regulations 2020. 

“This is therefore to inform you that your application has failed to meet the statutory standard for the above reasons set out,” the letter stated. “You are directed to cease collection forthwith.”

Recently, Kecobo went ahead to state that it will soon subject CMOs to a forensic audit, a scrutiny that will test the music bodies’ compliance against the previous year’s licence conditions.

Even though the relationship between Kecobo and CMOs has not been rosy for years, recently, there have been efforts made by stakeholders to effect a robust working framework by putting in policies that would direct CMOs operations.

Two months ago, the government said it was planning to introduce amendments to the copyright act, one that would see the royalty-collection agencies get the rights to track and collect publishing royalties for music creators.  

In a speech presented on behalf of The Youth Affairs, Sports and Arts Cabinet Secretary, Ababu Namwamba, during the inaugural Annual Conference for Neighbouring Rights Music Licensing Companies hosted by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) in Nairobi in March, Sigei said the draft Copyright Bill to replace the current one will be released by May (this month) for public participation and input by all relevant stakeholders.

The Saturday Standard can confirm that that process is on, following assurance given by Namwamba’s office yesterday.

“The government is exploring legal means to ensure all its agencies including the Communications Authority of Kenya, and the National Transport and Safety Authority among others can facilitate the collection of royalties. Furthermore, it will work with County Governments to ensure businesses pay royalties during the licensing process. In addition, the new comprehensive Tariffs will be published in the Kenya Gazette in due course,” read Namwamba’s speech.

The draft Copyright Bill relocks at the current private sector and government-regulated collective management process is still viable as it offers an opportunity for automation in the collection and payment of royalties, and reduction of costly administrative infrastructure.

In a World Bank report released in 2021, the Kenyan music industry was valued at about Sh320 billion. 


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