CMOs Behaving Badly: Kenya Featured Alongside EU and US Copyright Collecting Societies

UKIPO-Copyright-Law-iplogium-1

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.

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High Court Judgment on Constitutionality of Equitable Remuneration Right and Copyright Collective Management

skiza safaricom caller ringback tone service copyright license collective management society

 

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.

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Proposed Copyright Act Amendments on Regulation of Collective Management Organisations

kecobo kenya copyright board

This week, Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) has published a set of draft amendments on collective management organisations (CMOs) available here. KECOBO has requested the public to give comments on these ISP provisions through the email account: publicforum@copyright.go.ke. In this regard, KECOBO has confirmed that it shall convene a consultative public forum on February 11th 2016 at the Auditorium of NHIF Building starting at 8:00am. This blogpost is a commentary of the key features of the draft CMO provisions from KECOBO.

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Blind Opposition to Caller Ringtone Deal between Safaricom and Collecting Societies: High Court Case of Irene Mutisya & Anor v. MCSK & Anor

Robert Collymore CEO Safaricom

This blogger has recently come across Nairobi High Court Civil Case No. 262 of 2015 Irene Mutisya & Anor v. Music Copyright Society of Kenya & Anor. In this case Mutisya and another copyright owner Masivo have filed suit against Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) and mobile network operator Safaricom Limited for copyright infringement. The copyright owners filed an urgent application on 30th July 2015 for a temporary injunction to restrain Safaricom from remitting license fees to MCSK pursuant to a recently concluded license agreement for caller ring-back tones (CRBT) made available through Safaricom’s Skiza platform. The copyright owners also asked the court to restrain both Safaricom and MCSK from implementing the CRBT License Agreement pending the hearing of the application.

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Legality of Equitable Remuneration Challenged: High Court Petition of Xpedia & 4 Ors v. Attorney General & 4 Ors

equitable remuneration

Editor’s Note: On 31st July 2015, the urgent application in this Petition No.317 of 2015 dated 29th July 2015 was heard and certain interim orders were granted. A copy of the orders is available here.

This blogger has confirmed a recent media report that two content service providers and three copyright owners have jointly filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the right to equitable remuneration under the now infamous section 30A of the Copyright Act. The Petition was filed against the Attorney General, Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO), Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP), Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRiSK) and Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK).

As stated above, the crux of the Petition filed by Xpedia Management Limited, Liberty Afrika Technologies Limited, Elijah Mira, Francis Jumba and Carolyne Ndiba is that KAMP, PRiSK and MCSK should be stopped by the court from receiving or collecting royalties under section 30A of the Copyright Act in respect of works owned or claimed by the Petitioners.

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Copyright Board To Review Guidelines for Collective Management Organisations

This blogger has learned that KECOBO is in the process of the review its CMO Guidelines titled “Guidelines for Licensing Collective Management Organisations”. These CMO Guidelines are available on KECOBO’s website here. Therefore, this blogger hopes to provide an in-depth examination of the Guidelines while making comments on important areas and issues connected with the Guidelines.

In coming up with these Guidelines, KECOBO explains in the opening paragraph that it is mandated under the Act to license and supervise CMOs in Kenya so to ensure that CMOs carry out their core function, namely the collection and distribution of royalties. It is noteworthy that since 2011 when the Guidelines were introduced, KECOBO has been enforcing these Guidelines against CMOs despite the fact these guidelines have no force of law. It is therefore advisable that KECOBO causes the inclusion of these Guidelines in Regulations to be made by the Minister (Attorney General) under section 49 of the Act.

Notwithstanding the legal force of these Guidelines, this blogger has the following comments to make on the Guidelines:

1. Title: this blogger suggests that the title of the Guidelines be amended to include “and Supervising”.

2. Public Notice: KECOBO may wish to include a time frame within which notices shall be published to increase KECOBO’s accountability and transparency. In addition, KECOBO may wish to specify which platform(s) will carry the public notices eg. local dailies with national circulation, KECOBO’s official website, KECOBO notice board?

3. Licensing: In the spirit of transparency and accountability, KECOBO may consider including a time frame within which licenses shall be processed once all application documents are submitted.

4. New Applications: The requirement under (g) appears vague and KECOBO may consider specifying what documents would be required to satisfy that the applicant has the “capacity for collection and distribution of the royalties”.

5. Renewal of License: To avoid duplication of documents submitted by licensed CMOs, the requirements of (a) and (b) should be removed. In the alternative, the requirement (b) should be qualified for cases where the memorandum and articles of association have been amended.
With regard to requirement (i), submitting individual deeds of assignment for each and every member may be onerous for most CMOs due to the sheer bulk of documentation to be produced. At any rate, KECOBO may decide to verify the deeds during an inspection visit to ensure that it corresponds with the list of members submitted.

6. Revocation of a license: The CMO Guidelines have made several additions to the grounds provided under the Act. However the wording and punctuation of this list of grounds for revocation is ambiguous as it does not disclose whether all the ten (10) listed grounds must be present for revocation or whether the presence of one or several grounds is sufficient.

In sum, this blogger submits that the Guidelines play an important role of supplementing the existing legal provisions on licensing and supervision of CMOs found in the Copyright Act, 2001 and Copyright Regulations, 2004. However these Guidelines ought to be given the force of law in order for KECOBO to enforce them against CMOs.

Editor’s note: The author currently works with MCSK however the views, opinions and analyses expressed herein are solely those of the author and are not those of his employers, both past and present.

Ten Years Later: Dismal Performance Scorecard for Kenya’s Copyright Office

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As discussed previously, this month marks the 10 year birthday of Kenya’s Copyright Office (KECOBO) and this blogger promised to rate KECOBO’s performance over the past decade. In this blogger’s humble opinion, KECOBO deserves no score higher than 4/10 for its performance in overall administration of copyright and related rights in Kenya. In arriving at this score, this blogger looks at two key result areas for KECOBO, namely fighting piracy and regulation of CMOs in Kenya.

A good starting point would be to interrogate the theory behind the creation of institutions like KECOBO in our laws. From the landmark work of Richard Posner, one may term KECOBO a public interest regulator. The public interest theory of regulation holds that institutions like KECOBO exist to correct inefficiencies and inequities in the operation of the free market. Therefore government intervention generally is assumed to benefit society as a whole rather than particular vested interests. The regulatory body is considered to represent the interest of the society in which it operates rather than the private interests of the regulators.

An important component of KECOBO’s outcomes as a regulator under the public interest theory is the considerable costs to be borne by members of the public in order to know what KECOBO is doing and thereby, supervise its actions. This situation results in what public interest theory terms as “principal-agent slack”, whereby KECOBO enjoys a fair amount of slack because you and I require large amounts of time, information and organisation to supervise KECOBO’s activities.

Let’s test this public interest theory of regulation with respect to KECOBO’s performance in fighting piracy and regulating CMOs.

KECOBO’s Scorecard on the Fight Against Piracy: 3/10

It is no secret that KECOBO’s enforcement unit consists solely of 8 copyright inspectors and 5 prosecutors covering the entire country. This fact alone underscores the uphill task KECOBO faces in dealing with the menace of piracy. For instance, in 2003 when the Attorney General launched KECOBO, software piracy levels were at 78% in Kenya.

BSA estimates indicate that between 2010 and 2011 software piracy levels oscillated between 78% and 79% corresponding to a commercial value of US$85 million. KECOBO has acknowledged that this insignificant change in the piracy rate is evidence that little progress has been made in reducing piracy. It is important to note that aside from pirated software, the overwhelmed enforcement unit at KECOBO has to deal with other forms of piracy relating to music, film, broadcasts and books.

From an enforcement perspective, this blogger has often wondered why KECOBO has never made any real head-way in the fight against piracy in Kenya. Indeed it is difficult to recall any notable raids against large-scale piracy operations. In reality, KECOBO’s enforcement actions seem to target small to medium piracy operations instead of large-scale manufacturers and suppliers of pirated goods. It is based on this reality that many have argued that there must an inter-agency approach to intellectual property (IP) enforcement led by the newly formed Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) whose empowering legislation is much broader in scope and stringent on violations of IP rights. With ACA solely in charge of IP enforcement, KECOBO will be able to re-focus its limited resources away from fighting piracy to its other functions under the Copyright Act such as the regulation of collective management organisations (CMOs).

KECOBO’s Scorecard on Regulation of Collecting Societies: 4/10

During the launch of KECOBO 10 years ago, the Attorney General’s speech noted that KECOBO faced the herculean task of creating a conducive environment for Kenya’s music industry to thrive amidst a climate of disorder, disagreements and mismanagement. At the time, the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) was already 24 years old and was in operation as an unregulated CMO. In this blogger’s humble opinion, KECOBO ought to have pushed for CMO Regulations (like Nigeria and South Africa) to address the gaps in the Act relating to licensing and supervision of CMOs. The Copyright Regulations of 2004 pay little attention to important issues relating to regulation of CMOs. This lack of clear regulations for CMOs may have led to the deregistration of MCSK in 2011-2012.

In the meantime, KECOBO seems to have opted for several short-term extra-statutory means of regulating CMOs including performance contracting, developing a license agreement and licensing guidelines. In 2012, KECOBO failed to seize a second opportunity to amend the Act so as to empower it to adequately monitor the activities of CMOs. The amendments to the Act in 2012 did very little to improve the shaky legal framework within which CMOs are regulated.

Another important failure on the part of KECOBO is the Competent Authority under the Act aka the Copyright Tribunal. The Chair and members of this Tribunal were gazetted in 2009 however this Tribunal has never heard or determined any cases relating copyright. One of the key functions of the Tribunal is to consider certain licensing practices of CMOs deemed to be unreasonable by users.

The next 10 years?

In truth, many stakeholders would want the Copyright Office to allow the mandate of fighting piracy to be taken over by one sole agency eg. ACA. This would allow KECOBO to do better at its functions as a copyright registry through improvements and technical enhancements to the information technology platforms that support registration and recordation functions, including an online registration system. Generally, KECOBO would be expected to do a host of new things to help make copyright law more functional. For example, some people would like KECOBO to administer enforcement proceedings (such as a small copyright claims tribunal), offer arbitration or mediation services to resolve questions of law or fact, issue advisory opinions, and engage in countrywide awareness campaigns.

Of course, much of this will depend on the availability of technical capacity and resources.