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Safaricom CEO faces contempt suit in rights row

Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore. He faces contempt of court charges in a copyright row with John Boniface Maina, popularly known as JB Maina. Photo/FILE
Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore. He faces contempt of court charges in a copyright row with John Boniface Maina, popularly known as JB Maina. Photo/FILE  NATION MEDIA GROUP

Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore faces contempt of court charges in a copyright row with a musician.

John Boniface Maina, popularly known as JB Maina, wants the court to take action on Mr Collymore and three other executives for allegedly disobeying court orders issued in May.

The High Court in May restrained Safaricom from storing and selling Mr Maina’s Kikuyu songs and directed the mobile company to grant the musician access to its head office for him make copies of all the purchases and sales records of his songs.

But Mr Maina argues that Safaricom did not comply with the court orders, prompting the contempt of court suit.

“To date the respondent and the third parties are enjoying earnings from my music and not paying me whereas they don’t even give me an account of what they have sold,” said Mr Maina in court documents.

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The musician is also asking the court to punish Alex Mwenga, CEO of Interactive Media Services, Sydney Wachira (head of Liberty Afrika) and Maurice Okoth, the chief executive of Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK).

Mr Maina sued the telco for allegedly using 10 of his songs as ringtones through its “Skiza” and “Surf 2 Win Promotion”.

Safaricom has always denied the allegations, saying it signed a Content Provision Agreement with Interactive Media Services and Liberty Afrika Technologies, which are licensed by the MCSK.

The firm maintains that payments linked to the download of Mr Maina’s music were made to Liberty Afrika as per the content provision agreement.

Liberty Afrika claimed in its defence that it paid royalties from use of the musician’s songs to the MSCK, which denied authorising the firm to use Mr Maina’s song by Safaricom.

The musician is demanding Sh5 million in damages in addition to any money due after accounting for the alleged illegal sale of his songs through promotions.

The suit against Mr Collymore comes days after the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) was fined Sh10 million and its acting managing director  committed to a jail term of three months or a fine of Sh2 million for disobeying court orders to reinstate the firm’s suspended head.

Justice George Kimondo while delivering the May ruling observed that Mr Maina was in the dark over use of his songs by Safaricom and that the musician proved he had not received royalties.

The judge added that only Safaricom has details of the song downloads and sales from the musician tunes, adding that there was a need to protect the evidence by allowing Mr Maina access to the telco’s premises.

Mr Maina said the mobile firm is further delaying the conclusion of the case and expressed fears that Safaricom may tamper with evidence being withheld from him.

Safaricom in a letter attached to court documents and dated June told Mr Maina’s lawyer that it is not possible to supply the list of the song downloads because they are not classified based on individual artiste.

The mobile phone operator reckoned that it was difficult to evaluate the value of songs downloaded because their pricing is based on megabytes and not on the number of tunes.

Safariom said that it can only offer Mr Maina the bill for songs accessed as ringtones on “Skiza” tunes, adding that this will take long to compile.

Safaricom has faced a number of copyright suits including that of the money transfer service M-Pesa.

Christopher Ondieki took Safaricom to court in 2008 saying he invented M-Pesa’s upgraded technology that allows users to transfer money in US dollars and in Kenya shillings to and from bank accounts.

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