Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) will always remain one of the important organisations as far as the creative industry is concerned in the country.
The body has been there for years and continues to spearhead different programmes for the creative industry, including distributing royalties to artists with musicians as the biggest beneficiaries.
Cosoma has also been in the forefront in distributing funds to different arts associations through the Cultural Support Scheme which is funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
In the absence of funding from government for the past years, the Cultural Support Scheme has played a pivotal role in driving different associations to embark on different capacity building projects and competitions.
But with all that said, continues to receive criticism for its failure to help curb among others piracy which has grown rampant. The copyright body has said it is trying its level best in the fight through anti-piracy campaigns but bemoans the lack of funding towards the cause.
Many musicians are today failing to make ends meet as their works are being pirated and this has been compounded by technology.
Some artists have also criticised the copyright body for its failure to assist them when it comes to copyright issues.
Recently, gospel musician Faith Mussa complained that another artist had stolen his hit song ‘Desperate,’ by performing it the same way, using the same beat and only changed a few lyrics.
Mussa’s song is gospel as it talks about his love for God but the other artist decided to play a fast one by changing the lyrics. While Mussa in his song was desperate for God’s love, Atoti Manje changed the lyrics to being desperate for a kiss and this was simply a message going to a loved one.
This is just one case in point and another case also involves a song by The Great Angels Choir which has also seen another artist using the same beat and only changing a few lyrics.
While Cosoma has in the past banned some songs, some artists feel the body has not done enough to stop such malpractice.
Asked as to whether they have received a complaint from Mussa as regards his song, Cosoma’s Senior Licensing Officer Rosario Kamanga said the copyright body has no record that the ‘Desperate’ hit maker filed a complaint with them.
Cosoma has also come under fire from artists concerning soft copy licences which they say have been given to people who are pirating their music.
The artists have been voicing out their concerns on the issue through a forum they created and many have called for a stop in the issuing of the soft copy licences.
They artists threatened to go to the streets if something was not done to stop the soft copy licences.
“These soft copy licences are killing us, as artists we are failing to benefit from our sweat. Our music is all over being shared through flash disks and by licensing those using the gadgets is not even helping matters so this needs to be stopped otherwise we are angry,” said one artist on the forum.
On the forum, the artists also alleged that there are people who have been given soft copy licences and have since been arranging music for several musicians which they sell in South Africa.
Asked whether their office has received any complaint on the issue, Kamanga said Cosoma is aware of the issue and they are looking into improving the system.
He said Cosoma was created under section 41 of the Copyright Act (1989) with a broad mandate of promoting and protecting creativity and that in this regard, the copyright body licenses the public exploitation of copyright works including music, collects and distributes royalties to deserving composers and authors.
He said Cosoma currently licenses its members’ broadcasting, mechanical, reproduction and performances rights which are exclusive to them under the Copyright Act.
Kamanga said that the advent of digital technology brought with it news forms of reproducing music called download /upload which involves the transfer of an electronic copy /soft copy from a computer to a storage device like a flash.
He said since the act of uploading is a reproduction act which under the law is licensable, Cosoma introduced the necessary license for the benefit of its members. He said the The license costs MK85, 000.
“As this is a new area of licensing, there are obviously challenges mainly arising from misunderstanding of the new licensing system leading to feelings of discontent among a section of musicians,” said the Senior Licensing Officer.
Kamanga said Cosoma appreciates the musicians’ sentiments and is working towards improving the system by employing a number of strategies to foster acceptance.
He said that countrywide awareness meetings targeting the musicians have been held which have afforded them an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the system.
“The licensed users are also being organised in groups and the number of licensed establishments per area will be limited to facilitate monitoring and inspections. The other challenge relates to the organisation of content aggregators which Cosoma is also looking into,” he said.
“We think their reaction is normal considering that this is new, we are however, urging them to embrace technology which has offered a new way of consuming music and hence a new opportunity.”
He said CDs are on their way out of the market just like audio cassettes and Vinyl records which preceded them.
“The market for traditional music formats is on the decline worldwide and is down to 10 percent in some European countries. The snap survey conducted by Cosoma revealed that once properly established the musicians stand to benefit more from this income stream than from the existing traditional ones,” said Kamanga.
The issue of royalties has also been a hot subject among musicians with many saying they do not know how Cosoma calculates the royalties.
There have also been claims from some quarters that radio stations have a fixed amount as regards the broadcasting royalties and that this is regardless of whether the songs played are recorded on a sheet or not and this has forced others to question as to where this money goes?
But Kamanga explaining the issue of broadcasting royalties said the amount paid by a TV station or radio station for the use of music or copyright works is among other things, determined by the percentage of the music content in their programming.
He said the short of it being, the higher the music content the higher the amount of money paid in royalties by a station.
“I must, however, hasten to add that since the royalty paid is a percentage of the income for each station , the actual amount paid may likely be less for a station with a small budget than the one with a bigger one regardless of the fact that both use the same amount of music in their programming ,” said Kamanga.
He further said:
“ To put it into a context if one is played on MBC one is likely to earn more than if they are played more on a community radio station in Mchinji which has an annual budget of K1 million. By the way the log sheets are required to facilitate distribution and in the absence of this Cosoma would have no basis for carrying out the distribution.”
With the urban music genre coming in late, many urban musicians have come up to say they do not benefit from royalties despite having their songs playing regularly.
Some quarters have also come out to question as to where Cosoma puts the money of those artists who passed away and what system they have put on the ground to make sure that the deceased artists’ relatives benefit.
Kamanga opened up to say that when a song is played on a licensed radio or TV station, it participates in the distribution for that particular station meaning that it is supposed to be credited for the airplay it has received regardless of the fact that the person is registered with Cosoma or not.
The Senior Licensing Officer, however, said declaration of the work (meaning providing information as to the composer, lyrists (person who wrote the words) producer and others, enables the society to distribute the money earned by a particular song to the various individuals who have played a role in the song as is required by the distribution rules.
“Many songs are known by their performers (the one who sang the song who may not necessarily be the same person who composed, authored the words or indeed produced it) so if we were to give the whole money we may unknowingly also have given him money that belongs to other people,” said Kamanga.
He said it was therefore imperative that not just urban music artists but all individuals to have their music registered or declared because for them to benefit from royalties as the information provided facilitates distribution.
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