Endless wrangles in Kenya’s collective management system have made us all experts in copyright law. The thorny question of how and to what extent key players in the collective administration of copyright and related rights must comply with the Constitution remains a hotly debated topic. This brings us to a recent judgment by the High Court in the case of Laban Toto Juma & 4 Others v. Kenya Copyright Board & 2 Others Consolidated Kakamega Petition No. 3B of 2017 delivered on 13 July 2018. A copy of this High Court judgment is available here. Not surprisingly, both sides in this see-saw legal battle are claiming victory following the court’s final verdict. So, this blogpost will attempt to examine the key issues tackled by the court in its judgment as well as some of the questions that have been left unanswered.
The raison d’etre of the collective administration or collective management system in copyright law is to bridge the gap between rights holders and users of copyright works. So, what happens when collecting societies, or as they are commonly called collective management organisations (CMOs), fail to carry out this core function and instead become poster children for corruption, mismanagement, lack of transparency, and abuse of power?
Back in 2013, Jonathan Band and Brandon Butler published an insightful article titled ‘Some Cautionary Tales About Collective Licensing’ which exposed the dark side of CMOs around the world. This blogger was pleased that some of our work in the context of CMOs in Kenya was featured in the article, specifically the on-going wrangles between Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) and literally everyone else including the copyright regulator, copyright owners, copyright users and even other Kenyan CMOs in the music industry.
This blogger has come across a recent judgment in the case of Mercy Munee Kingoo & Anor v. Safaricom Limited & Anor [unreported] Malindi High Court Constitutional Petition No. 5 of 2016 delivered by Mr. Justice S.J Chitembwe on 3rd November 2016. At the heart of this Petition was the claim that section 30A of the Copyright Act is unconstitutional. This Petition raised two important issues for determination: firstly, whether the petition is ‘res judicata’ in light of two earlier decided High Court Petitions (discussed previously here and here) in which section 30A was not found to be unconstitutional and secondly, whether the amendment of the Copyright Act and introduction of section 30A is unconstitutional for failure to observe the principles of public participation.
Maurice Okoth, former MCSK CEO (left) with his lawyer at the High Court for the delivery of the judgment.
Recently, the High Court delivered its judgment in the case of Republic v. The Director of Public Prosecutions and 4 Others Ex Parte Shamilla Kiptoo and 2 Others HCMA 510 of 2015 (Consolidated) in which the court granted the orders of certiorari and prohibition sought by the Applicants namely Maurice Okoth, Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) former Chief Executive Officer (CEO), James Maweu Mutisya, former MCSK Board Director, Lillian Njoki Thuo, MCSK Management Accountant, Peter Kisala Enyenze, MCSK Regional Manager and Shamilla Kiptoo, Nasratech Limited Managing Director (and Okoth’s wife).
The order of Certiorari granted by the court quashes the decision, declaration and directive of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID), Inspector General of Police (IG), Chief Magistrate’s Court and the Attorney General (collectively referred to as the Respondents) to prefer criminal charges against the Applicants based on the facts contained in the Charge Sheet dated 18th November 2015 in Criminal Case No. 1904 of 2015 – Republic v. Dan Maurice Mwande Okoth & 6 others. The order of Prohibition granted by the court directed to the Respondents prohibits the prosecution of the Applicants based on the facts contained in the Charge Sheet dated 18th November 2015 in Criminal Case No. 1904 of 2015 – Republic versus Dan Maurice Mwande Okoth & 6 others. Finally, the court ordered the costs of the application to be borne by the DPP, CID and IG.
A recent judgment by the High Court in the case of Albert Gacheru Kiarie T/A Wamaitu Productions v James Maina Munene & 7 others  eKLR is likely to have profound ramifications for the enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights in Kenya. At the heart of this case is a catalogue of widely popular vernacular songs such as “Mariru (Mwendwa Wakwa Mariru)” which is featured in the video above by Gacheru and produced by the latter’s company, Wamaitu.
According to Gacheru, his music and those of other rights holders he was involved with through his Wamaitu label have all been the subject of piracy and copyright infringement for many years. From 2004, Gacheru was the complainant in a criminal copyright infringement case (Criminal Case No. PP 06 of 2004) and was later granted permission to privately prosecute the case but he was then barred from continuing to undertake the private prosecution for the reason that he intended to serve as a witness in the same case. Gacheru appealed this decision insisting that he should be allowed to act as private prosecutor and witness in his case. The present judgment settles this 12 year old dispute on this matter.
Previously we reported here that several members of Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) had filed a case in the Commercial Division of the High Court challenging a license pertaining to the caller ringback tones (CRBT) service known as “Skiza Tunes” owned by mobile network operator, Safaricom issued by the three music collective management organisations (CMOs) including MCSK.
While the outcome of this commercial suit is still pending, we have come across a recently delivered judgment in the case of Petition No. 350 of 2015 David Kasika & 4 Ors v. Music Copyright Society of Kenya in which several MCSK members alleged that the collection of royalties by MCSK under the CRBT license agreement in question violates their constitutional rights, that the making available of works for download on Safaricom’s CRBT service amounts to a private performance as such section 30A of the Copyright Act does not apply and thus the CMOs cannot collect royalties on behalf of its members as required under the section. Finally, the petition invited the court to weigh in on several damning allegations made regarding mismanagement by MCSK in its collection and distribution of members’ royalties.
Previously we reported here that two content service providers and three individual copyright owners had filed a constitutional petition at the High Court challenging the content of the equitable remuneration right in section 30A of the Copyright Act, the application and implementation of section 30A by the collective management organisations (CMOs) and the manner of licensing and supervision of the CMOs by Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO).
Recently in the case of Petition No. 317 of 2015 Xpedia Management Limited & 4 Ors v. The Attorney General & 4 Ors Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi (known to many readers for her landmark decision on anti-counterfeit law and access to medicines here) delivered a judgment at the High Court dismissing claims by content service providers and the copyright owners that the contents and implementation of section 30A are unconstitutional.