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Cosoma in focus

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The Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma), created by an Act of Parliament of 1989 known as the Copyright Act plays a crucial role in protecting rights. However, there seems to be little understanding of the body’s role in society. RICHARD CHIROMBO goes back in the records and highlights what Cosoma Senior Licensing Officer, Rosario Kamanga, shared with him. Excerpts:

The name Cosoma has come to be associated with music. Should we say you are now a monogamous institution?

Yes, Cosoma is associated with music more (than other rights holders). However, its mandate goes beyond music. It covers all (forms of) creativity including literary works like poems, and novels. It also covers visual arts. In this regard, Cosoma also administers what is known as the reprographic right-which is the exclusive right of reproduction, commonly called photocopying, of copyright protected material.

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Cosoma seems like a mother figure. Does anyone have to pay to eat at their mother’s dining table?

In order to access some of the benefits, like receipt of royalties, artists do not necessarily have to be members of Cosoma. The only requirement is that the artists provide Cosoma with information which would enable the organisation carry out distribution of the income that has been generated by the work. However, artists are encouraged to become members as this entails additional benefits including participation in trainings, access to financial assistance when one is ill amounting to K50, 000. The same amount is given during time of bereavement of the member artist.

Of late, we have seen relatives and other musicians reworking on songs produced by artists who are now dead. Is it as easy as inheriting a family dog?

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When one becomes a member of Cosoma, one assigns their rights to Cosoma which enables Cosoma to grant authorisation to would-be users on behalf of the artists/authors. The procedure, therefore, is that one seeks permission from (Cosoma), which owns most of the rights in the works, through assignment and also through reciprocal representation agreements with similar societies outside the country.

We hear that copyright is mortal and that, just like musicians, it expires after some time. What is the life span of ownership?

Copyright exists during the life time of an author, up to 50 years after his death. After that, the work falls into what is called public domain, meaning that it is free for any person to use.

Is that not daylight robbery?

This is done to promote access to information

How does an artist sign a binding contract?

There are numerous types of agreements that artists enter into with other parties, including record companies. On its part, Cosoma has made available to artists model agreements which they could refer to when considering contracting with another party but, ultimately, they are free to define for themselves the terms of the agreement.

Radio stations and drinking joints have been playing music produced by the old generation extensively, but we don’t hear that their dependants have received royalties. Is Cosoma reaping where it did not sow?

If you do not hear it (it) does not mean it does not happen. So long as the works are declared, (so long as) the artists provided sufficient information for Cosoma to carry out distribution, the beneficiaries do receive royalties generated by works of deceased artists. Notable examples include Saleta phiri , Gift Fumulani , Evison Matafale, and Allan Namoko.

But, somehow, somewhere, there must be some things beyond the rich of the arm of copyright.

For policy considerations, there are works which are not protected by copyright, including written laws, decisions of the courts and administrative bodies, news of the day published, broadcast or publicly communicated, reports made by commission of enquiries appointed by the government.

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