Last week's Commercial High Court ruling in a case involving traditional music artiste Cécile Kayirebwa, and six radio stations accused of playing her songs illegally opens a relationship era between local artistes and Rwandan broadcasters.
Despite the defence that was advanced by their lawyer, the court ruled that public broadcasting agency, Orinfor (Rwanda Bureau of Information and Broadcasting), which owns Radio Rwanda and Rwanda Television, have been using the artiste's songs without her authorisation.
The court considered the evidence the artiste presented, which proved that all the songs were registered under her name at the Rwanda Development Board.
Private-owned Radio Isango Star was also found guilty of playing Kayirebwa's music illegally.
Thus Orinfor was ordered to compensate Kayirebwa Rwf6m, while Isango Star was ordered to pay Rwf2m. Both radios will also pay the court proceeding fee worth Rwf300,000 each, thus earning Kayirebwa Rwf 8.6m.
City Radio, Flash FM and Muslim-owned Voice of Africa, were found not guilty and the court ordered the artiste to pay Rwf300,000 to each of the broadcasters as court proceeding fees.
The first of its kind in Rwanda, the case could lead journalists and radio owners to revisit their relationship.
According to Athanase Rutabingwa, the president of Rwanda Bar Association, there has not been many cases related to intellectual property because artistes do not know their rights.
"But I think Kayirebwa is an example they can follow," he told The New Times.
Epimaque Butera, a lawyer in Kigali, commended the case, saying artistes have a jurisprudence which besides the law, they can refer to for their cases, which are increasing with the sound studio technologies.
Justine Mugabo, the owner of Isango Star Radio, told The New Times that "the ruling draws a kind of conflict between local artistes and broadcasters, who previously thought they were doing it in the interest of promoting the local music industry."
As far as his radio is concerned, Mugabo said, some artistes used to present a written request to the radio owners to have their songs played.
But many artistes prefer to pass their CDs to radio presenters, who receive songs and play them without any condition.
"We are now going to be serious and very formal to minimise risks," Mugabo said, while appealing to artistes to have a union where they should be raising intellectual property concerns instead of going to court.
Mugabo is yet to confirm if he will appeal against the decision, but he said he was not satisfied.
Though he believes playing their songs was in the interests of local artistes, Claude Ndayishimiye, the director of Authentic Radio, argues that radios should be careful.
"They have been playing their songs to promote artistes, but it not worth the risk."
Kitoko Bibarwa, an Afro-beat local artiste, said people exploit artistes, but Kayirebwa's case awakens the artistes to the reality.
A small award?
Kayirebwa's lawyer Safari Kizito, yesterday, dismissed the court award as meagre.
"One can understand that our judges do not understand the value of intellectual property. It's regrettable this award of Rwf8.6m against more than Rwf120m my client had pleaded for," Kizito said.
However, he admits the suit was more about creating awareness than the award.