MCSK missing big picture of intellectual property

An MCSK official displays CDs: The body is mandated to protect rights of creative workers. File
An MCSK official displays CDs: The body is mandated to protect rights of creative workers. File 

Imagine working on a project that called for you to pour your hopes, ideas and creative energy into a single package.

After weeks of repositioning and reworking, the final product is ready. Beaming, satisfied that you have made your mark on the world, you take it an organisation that will keep 80 per cent of what you make in sales for itself.
Sound a little nutty?

Probably, that’s because it is.

It is also the reality for several of Kenya’s musicians, who part with a hefty chunk of their earnings from royalties to the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK).

In case you missed the news, the body that collects royalties for music composers, authors and publishers in Kenya was shut down over a month ago following allegations of financial misdeeds.


Claims quickly surfaced that the body was deregistered because it was not remitting the money to musicians and was also allocating funds to the wrong sections of the business.

The move was said to be popular with a section of artists, who said that they did not see the value in continuing to allow the body to collect fees on their behalf.

All the same, the High Court last week ruled that the body should be allowed to continue operating, hoping to salvage earnings for some 5,000 artists who have registered with MCSK.

This means that the MCSK can continue collecting money from matatus, taxis, concert promoters, ring tone providers, cyber-cafes, restaurants and bars until a hearing set for later this year decides the way forward.

According to its own records, MCSK’s expenses stood at Sh137 million in the year to June 2010 against revenues of Sh185 million, leaving it with a surplus of Sh48 million or 25 per cent of its collections that was then channelled to the musicians.

Comparatively, PPL, the UK company responsible for collecting airplay royalties for artists in that country, managed to generate £143.5 million last year, a figure which is an 11 per cent increase on 2009 figures.

Obviously, Kenya’s creative industry is nowhere near as large as the UK market, but some of the factors that have made PPL successful may come in handy for MCSK.

PPL got around this issue by ensuring that it formed cross-industry partnerships that meant anyone involved in the music industry would have to register.

It established a body to collect royalties for artistic works, and the strategy has paid off in increased revenues for artists and record companies.

MCSK battles for royalties with about four other bodies and also collects physically from outlets.

While the MCSK case is set for further hearing, many of the issues being raised resonate throughout the ICT sector as they are linked to the intellectual property debate.

Despite significant growth in the sector and a Constitution that backs the creative rights of artists, it is not clear yet who is responsible for protecting the rights of creative workers in Kenya.

MCSK can provide valuable guidance on what the country needs to start formulating a concrete plan on how it intends to encourage more people to enter the creative field said to be worth more than Sh900 million.