Standoff over royalties paralyses Uganda arts

When the Uganda Performing Right Society (UPRS) held its 2022 annual general meeting on January 20 at the Uganda National Cultural Centre in Kampala, there was no meeting of minds about how to distribute royalties to creators.

Left with little choice, UPRS and its board adjourned proceedings. When they met on February 17,it was revealed that UPRS collected Shs247m as royalties to its members in 2022.

“These collections were to be distributed to the appropriate owners. However, in absence of a monitoring system to guide the distribution, this was not possible,” a statement from the February 17 meeting states, adding, “A motion was moved on how to distribute the monies for which members resolved to have the money distributed equally among all members within two weeks.”

During the meeting, the Uganda Registration Services Bureau—the regulator—cautioned UPRS to maintain the Copyright Act 2006 Section 58(c). The legal provision emphasises distribution of royalties to appropriate beneficiaries. UPRS was advised to proceed with caution and justification as a mitigation issue of the inherent injustice and illegal resolution members had come up with.

“UPRS management decided to undertake appropriate measures before it moves forward with the resolution and this shall require more time before the royalty distribution exercise ,which we anticipate to happen in the next four months,” the statement reads in part. 

“We reassure members that royalties are kept in a royalty bank account and will not be tampered with for any other purpose except royalties as soon as the legal and distribution method impasse is resolved,”  it adds.

UPRS was formed in 1985 by authors (mainly musicians) to advance the cause of copyright administration. It is recognised by the government as a collecting society and it is a member of CISAC. UPRS represents the rights of more than 4,000 members in Uganda. It licenses organisations to play, perform or make available copyrighted music on behalf of its members and those of overseas societies, distributing the royalties to them fairly and efficiently.

“The state of copyright in Uganda is still on a journey of development,” Ms Morrine Nasuna, the UPRS acting chief executive, told Saturday Monitor, adding, “There is a lot of ignorance around the concept, which makes its implementation rather difficult, and the structures are not only weak but also underdeveloped for proper functionality.”

Ms Nasuna said UPRS needs to be aligned to “its intended mandate” not least because it “is a single CMO entity handling music rights bundles. A CMO is a collective management organisation. 

‘Advancing GDP’
It is important that UPRS gets its act together because—as per Ms Nasuna—copyright industries have the potential to take the lead in advancing Uganda’s GDP. “This is a virgin economic ground which government should give keen interest because it might solve many psycho-socio-economic issues key to its development goals,” she reasoned.

Mr  Charles Batambuze, the executive director of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO),  said: “Negotiations with users of literary works are still ongoing. There are no collections yet.”

URRO was incorporated in 2010 as a company limited by guarantee. It was registered as a full collecting society in August 2014. It was founded to act on behalf of authors and publishers of literary works to protect copyright, licence users of protected literary works, collect fees, distribute royalties and fight book piracy.

“The National Council for Higher Education (regulator) needs to support collections by ensuring that universities comply with the Copyright Act,” Mr Batambuze said, adding that “the Ministry of Education and Sports needs to include in their budget the payment of royalties for the different levels of education. There is need to amend the Copyright Act to provide for new royalty streams like the private copy levy.”

Mr Batambuze also reported a grim scorecard in the publishing industry, with “some of the biggest publishing houses reducing staffing by 50 percent” thanks to the pandemic.”

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