Why collection of artistes' royalties failed to take off

In April this year, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) caught many people off-guard with the announcement that establishments that play local music will, from July this year, be required to pay royalties to the artistes.
Charly & Nina perform during their album launch concert on Friday. File.
Charly & Nina perform during their album launch concert on Friday. File.

In April this year, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) caught many people off-guard with the announcement that establishments that play local music will, from July this year, be required to pay royalties to the artistes.

This was in line with the enforcement of the 2009 Intellectual Property Law.

The royalties are to be collected through a management organisation, Rwandan Society of Authors (RSAU).

However, six months into the implementation, only a handful of business establishments have paid the annual royalties with most seemingly adamant.

According to data from RSAU, only four establishments have paid and acquired licenses. These include three major hotels and a city bar.

The decision has been very unpopular especially among media broadcasters, who are also required to pay the annual royalties.

Broadcasters argue that the directive ignored the interdependence that exists between musicians and media and could lead them to stop playing local content.

Among their arguments is that unlike other business outlets, they do not generate revenue from playing music whereas musicians depend on radio to advance their careers.

At a consultative meeting in Kigali yesterday, it was clear that most broadcasters were reluctant on grounds that often they are approached by artistes who hand them music content seeking airplay.

Charging them for ‘‘supporting the artistes’’ is unfair and unjustified, they said.

Kim Kizito Safari, the Director General of City Radio, explained that the new directive was also sort of contravening their obligations to the Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority.

“On acquiring broadcasting licenses, broadcasters commit to promote local content. Charging them for the same is somewhat contradictory to the spirit of promoting local talent,” Kizito said.

Others said that implementation of the directive will lead them to cease playing local content as it will drive up their cost of doing business.

Paying for rights to play foreign content is affordable for most outlets and could cost as low as $200 a year for unlimited content.

Ildephonse Sinabubariraga, the Managing Director of Radio Ishingiro, said they cannot afford to pay for royalties whereas they had set out to support artistes.

“This could lead to a scenario where we ask musicians to pay us for promoting them as they will get royalties at the end of the year,” he said.

Telecom companies who use artistes’ content for caller tunes are also opposed to the mode of implementation of the directive.

At the moment, many musicians enter agreements with mobile content providers who then sell the content to telcos.

Jules Ngoga, the Chief Executive of Net Solutions, a popular content provider, said they already have contracts with musicians on using their content.

It would be impossible to have two different contracts on the use of the same content or would lead artistes to lose significant revenues as their earnings from royalties are still not clear.

“Some of the artistes we work with are not content with the model as it means we would no longer have to pay them directly and they would only earn from royalties whose terms are still unclear,” he explained.

He said that this was among the indications that the law, despite its good intentions, did not take into consideration concerns of major stakeholders or impacts to their businesses.

Public transporters are also opposed to the implementation of the directive in its current form as it will drive up cost of operations without clear benefits.

Diedounne Rutayisire, the Managing Director of City Express, said that, they could consider removing music installations from their vehicles if the directions prove to be too much for them to cope with.

Like radio stations, he said that they often play local content out of request by artistes who hand them their works.

A number of artistes who have spoken to The New Times have also expressed reservations on joining RSAU in fear that it could get in the way of their partnership with business establishments that play their music.

The mode of payment of collection of the royalties is also riddled with controversy, with some questioning the decision to have a blanket approach as opposed to charging establishments by frequency of playing local music.

In the current model, establishments of a specific category pay the same royalties without taking into account the frequency of play.

Blaise Ruhima, the Division Manager in charge of Intellectual Property at RDB, said that stakeholders have to find a way to agree on the modalities as the decission is based on the law.

He said that it was unfair that artistes’ content was being used by businesses without paying them royalties. He said that most business were arguing from a position mindful of their own interests without thinking of the artistes’.

Others in support of the directive argue that businesses greatly benefit from playing artistes content because it helps them remain relevant.

Francois Ngarambe a musician and a board member at RSAU, said that broadcasters’ threats to cut ties with musicians would also lead the media to suffer as the two are interdependent.

The penalties of failing to comply with the law are also unclear; however, legal experts say that, one can be charged under either article 383 of the penal code on communication of work.

“Any broadcasting organisation or communication company by means of radio electrical waves communicates a protected work, without prior authorisation of right’s owner or his/her rightful claimants, shall be liable of a fine of five hundred thousand (500,000) to one million (1,000,000) Rwandan francs,” the artical reads in part.

In Kenya, the model has since failed after being marred by controversies, including the model and efficiency of distribution of royalties to artistes.