Editorial: Local artistes’ copyright demands stand on thin ground

The implementation of intellectual property rights law in Rwanda stands on very shaky ground. One only needs to step outside to meet with infringements every few metres; from the unauthorised use of celebrity images on hair salons to logos of recognisable brands.

Cheap imitations are everywhere, plagiarising and illegal copies hardly gets any harsh counter-measures yet an intellectual property rights law is in existence since 2009.


Some of the most vocal activists to protect their rights have been musicians who look on helplessly as their works are copied and sold openly on the street. Law enforcement hardly lifts a finger against piracy unlike in a neighbouring country where local artistes’ works are guarded jealously. Today, musicians in that particular country are some of the most successful.


In Rwanda, ignorance of the copyright law seems to come to the fore. Total confusion is the most visible element in the whole debate as musicians seek loyalties from broadcast houses every time their songs are played.


One local musician even took the whole drama a step further when he complained to Rwanda Development Board. He said that during the just-concluded gorilla-naming ceremony, his music was played and entertained the public when his stomach was empty; in short, he wanted a piece of the pie.

RDB has now buckled and is soon having a sit down with the musician, some small victory in the copyright war.

Some local musicians have been demanding money from radio stations that play their music. The stations have retaliated by threatening to boycott their music altogether. In that kind of standoff, it is the artistes who will end up the losers; it is through airplay that their music is popularised.

In simple terms, a station is giving the artiste free advertisement so their demands for loyalties are tricky to meet.

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