A Rwandan female musician has dragged the country's Bureau of Information and Broadcasting commonly known as ORINFOR to the High Commercial Court over allegedly repeatedly playing her music illegally.
Cecile Kayirebwa a famous artist mostly based in Belgium where she fled as a refugee, through her lawyer Safari Kizito of the Bona fide law firm in Kigali is suing ORINFOR which runs Rwanda's only TV station, RTV and a state radio station for over RWF250 m(US$400,000) in damages accrued from playing her songs both in audio and video version reportedly, without her consent.
According to the artist's lawyer, the suit also includes five other local private radio stations based in Kigali that have also allegedly been playing the musician's music illegally.
The five local stations include Radio Voice of Africa, Contact FM, Radio Flash FM, City Radio and Isango Star all of which deny the accusations and request proof.
Orinfor for its part admits to have played the songs but argued in the preliminary hearing of the case that it can prove that Kayirebwa herself had requested the public broadcaster to play her music for promotional purposes.
Another respondent in the case, Voice of Africa makes the same claim. According to the artist's lawyer, his client wants compensation of up to RWF270 million for damages and losses incurred over the period when her music was being consumed for free.
The biggest claim is against ORINFOR which the artist wants to pay her RWF90 million with the other respondents paying RWF30 million each.
"My client is an artist, a professional musician who survives by her works of art, so by the accused to use her work in their own businesses without prior consent is a gross abuse of her ownership rights as provided for under the laws of this country," the artist's lawyer told the East African Business Week.
Hearing for the case is scheduled to resume on Dec 14 after both parties produce their witnesses to back up their positions. The artist's lawyer says he believes they have a strong case and says the evidence available will prove beyond doubt that the rights of his client were defiled.
In 2009, Rwanda passed a new Law for the Protection of intellectual property rights but Mr. Kizito says there had existed similar laws before then.
"In 1951, Rwanda ratified the 1886 international convention which addressed intellectual rights and prior to the 2009 law, we had law no-27-1983 which also served the same purpose," explained Kizito.
The significance means the artist's claim against the respondents could date back decades when she claims ORINFOR started infringing on rights of her works.
While the law is there, it continues to be rampantly abused and most musicians here feel privileged when their music is played on radio even though they earn nothing from loyalties.
Small music burning shops have the biggest impact on musicians' works as members of the public pay less to get the whole pirated album explaining why many artists here have not yet realized the fruits of their efforts.
Several artists who talked to The EABW in reaction to the case said while the development is poised to lay a strong precedent for the future, they have a common fear that it might threaten the relationship between media houses that they see as key promotional tools.
However, Kizito doesn't agree.
"Good music will always be sought after and respect of copy right will help artists finally earn from their works," remarked the lawyer adding that he was not worried of the future of his client's music.
"We are willing to work with all of them even after this but in a proper and formal business understanding, we have even offered in the past to settle this out of court," he added.