High Court Judgment on Caller Ringback Tones, Definition of Public Performance and Regulation of Collecting Societies

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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.

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Government Invites Public Views on Liability of Online Intermediaries for Copyright Infringement

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In recent media reports here and here, Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) reveals that it has proposed draft legal provisions to deal with the liability of internet/online intermediaries. KECOBO Chief Legal Counsel (CLC) has been kind enough to share with this blogger a copy of the proposed draft legal provisions available here. KECOBO CLC has also indicated to this blogger that there are plans underway to hold a public forum in the coming months to discuss the draft provisions and receive comments from the public.

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Establishing Copyright Infringement: High Court Ruling in Nonny Gathoni v. Samantha’s Bridal Wedding Show Case

This blogger has come across a recent ruling by the High Court in Nonny Gathoni Njenga & anor v. Catherine Masitsa & 2 ors Civil Case No. 490 of 2013. In this case, the plaintiffs (Nonny Gathoni and Jane Odewale) applied to the High Court for orders of temporary injunction restraining the Defendants (Catherine Masitsa, Standard Group Ltd and Bauhaus Ltd) from infringing in any way on the plaintiff’s rights under copyright in the literary work registered as “Weddings with Nonny Gathoni” and later televised as “The Baileys Wedding Show with Noni Gathoni”. In particular, the plaintiff sought to have the court restrain the defendants from reproducing, adapting, communicating to the public or broadcasting the whole work or a substantial part thereof either in its original form or in any form recognisably derived from the original literary work.

A copy of the ruling is available here.

According to the learned High Court Judge Ogolla J the main issue for determination is whether the Defendants have infringed on the Plaintiffs’ literary work (as registered at KECOBO and evidenced by a Certificate of Registration issued by KECOBO and presented in court). The learned judge rightly singles out the core contention of the plaintiffs which is that although both parties had their own wedding show, the defendants changed the previous running order of their show by allegedly copying the running order expressed by the plaintiffs in the literary work “Weddings with Noni Gathoni”. The court ultimately finds in favour of the plaintiffs and allowed the orders sought for temporary injunction.

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Unanswered Copyright Issues as Musician JB Maina Agrees to Sh15.5m Settlement with Safaricom

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Media reports here and here indicate that musician JB Maina has accepted Safaricom’s out-of-court settlement offer of KES 15.5 Million in the case of John Boniface Maina v Safaricom Limited [2013] eKLR. To recap briefly, the JB Maina case has been in court since 2010 when Safaricom was accused of copyright infringement in respect of musical works of JB Maina alleged to have been uploaded on Safaricom’s portals, particularly its caller ring back tone service known as ‘Skiza’.

Prior to the reported settlement, the court had already granted JB Maina a temporary injunction restraining Safaricom from dealing in JB Maina’s works, in addition to awarding JB Maina the costs of the motion to be paid by Safaricom. Thereafter the court allowed JB Maina’s application for Anton Piller orders against Safaricom. These orders allowed JB Maina to enter Safaricom’s premises, inspect its machines, take records, make copies of records for purposes of gathering and preserving evidence necessary to prove his claim of copyright infringement. The final straw in the JB Maina case was an application filed by JB Maina for Safaricom Chief Executive Officer to be held in contempt of the anton piller orders issued by the court and committed to civil jail. This move prompted Safaricom to seek the leave of the court to allow for an out-of-court settlement of the suit with JB Maina.

With above information in mind, it comes as no surprise that Safaricom would be keen to pursue and conclude an out-of-court settlement in this matter with JB Maina. However this blogger argues that this settlement has left several critical issues unanswered:

1. The Separation of Infrastructure Provision from Content Provision

In this regard, Safaricom’s position has always been that it is an infrastructure provider that enables rights owners and their licensees to avail their music to end users. In the present case, the licensees are Content Service Providers (CSPs) who are duly licensed by the relevant collective management organisations (CMOs) to avail music. In this regard, Safaricom maintains that where licensed CSPs provide music using Safaricom’s infrastructure, it is enough that the CSPs produce to Safaricom all the required copyright licenses issued to it by the CMOs. It is on this basis that Safaricom enters into Content Provision Agreements (CPAs) with CSPs whereby the latter undertake to obtain all necessary licenses, rights of use, assignment and approvals from any relevant authorities and copyright owners for the provision of the Content and ensure that such licenses and approvals are updated and valid throughout the term of the CPAs. Critically, the CPAs state that CSPs undertake to defend and/or settle all intellectual property (IP) infringement claims brought against Safaricom and keep the latter fully indemnified.

In light of the above, Safaricom argue that as an infrastructure provider, it need not be licensed by CMOs or rights owners since the CSPs availing the music to end users are already licensed by CMOs and/or rights owners.

However, this blogger contends that the above argument is problematic for two main reasons, namely it betrays the widely accepted understanding of “communication to the public” and “infringement” under domestic and international copyright laws. In this regard, it is submitted that both functions of infrastructure provision and content provisions entail an exploitation of the right of communication to public and/or making available as defined under Article 8 of the WIPO Copyright Treaty and Section 2 of the Kenya Copyright Act. With regard to the issue of infringement, section 35 clearly contemplates two levels of infringement namely primary and secondary or direct and indirect. It is submitted that Safaricom may be liable for secondary or indirect copyright infringement as an infrastructure provider since it causes to be done or furthers the doing of an act which is controlled by the rights owners.

2. The Role of Content Service Providers

Safaricom advances two main reasons why it is averse to dealing directly with rights owners like JB Maina. Firstly, it argues that under the Kenya Information and Communication Act (KICA) read together with the Unified Licensing Framework gazetted in 2008, only CSPs who hold a current license from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) are mandated to provide music to end users. Therefore Safaricom would only deal with CSPs and/or rights owners once they are duly licensed by CAK. Secondly, Safaricom appears to suggest the current arrangement of CSPs as middle-men is consistent with the provisions of the Kenya Competition Act i.e. preventing the monopolisation of content provision by a handful of CMOs or rights owners.

This blogger argues that this arrangement do not always work to the advantage of CMOs and rights owners since the CSPs are at liberty to under-state royalty payments received from Safaricom. Therefore, rights owners like JB Maina and CMOs like MCSK, KAMP and PRiSK must insist on dealing directly with Safaricom or at least having tripartite agreements where the copyright owners can be on the same level as the CSPs.

It is clear that JB Maina’s case raised important issues regarding rights owners that are not members of any of the music CMOs. However there are two other likely scenarios that would require Safaricom to deal directly with a rights owner. Firstly, where the rights owner is a member of a CMO but has selectively limited its assignments to the latter and/or the works to be administered by the latter. Secondly, where the rights owner has assigned all rights exclusively to both the CMOs and the CSPs (A frequent occurence!).

The Rise in Intellectual Property Disputes in Kenya: Some Thoughts

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Recently, this blogger weighed in on the topic of the rise in intellectual property (IP) disputes in Kenya. This theme was also picked up by the Business Daily in their regular column here. For IP enthusiasts, these are exciting times in Kenya as new IP disputes are constantly reported. Here are some of this blogger’s thoughts on the subject in no particular order.

1. Public Awareness/Ignorance

Presently information can be disseminated faster, cheaper and more widely than ever before. From an IP perspective, this situation has resulted in an encouraging increase in public awareness about IP rights. The public is keen to fully understand the nature and scope of IP rights so as to effectively take steps to cash in on their creations, innovations and inventions. Public institutions, civil society organisations supported by main-stream media, private entities and individuals are all actively engaged in sharing as much information as possible on IP rights.

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