18 February 2013

Rwanda: Time to Enforce Intellectual Property Laws

Photo: New Times
A cartoon depicting the Commercial High Court ruling in a case involving traditional music artiste Cécile Kayirebwa, and six radio stations accused of playing her songs illegally.


The recent partial victory by Rwanda's celebrated songbird, Cecile Kayirebwa, in her legal suit against several local radio stations for infringing on her copyrights, is a legal eye opener.

She had accused the stations of playing her songs without her permission, thereby flouting the existing 2009 law regarding Intellectual Property Rights.

Even though the law had been in place for many years, before the recent amendments, the public has largely ignored it, either through lack of awareness, greed, or the absence of active enforcement.

While the law was set up to protect scientific, literally, artistic or industrial inventions, debates on how to enforce it have been ongoing but without clear mechanisms to curb the vice.

Nowhere is the practice more rampant than in the recording music industry, where counterfeit copies are openly sold on the streets, an issue musicians have tried to fight to no avail. But owners of the property rights are also to blame.

There has been an unwritten code between musicians and radio presenters; that broadcasting an artiste's songs is helping to promote them. Musicians even beg to have their music played without considering the legal implications.

Police in the past have cracked down on music stores that illegally copy CDs and sell them cheaply, but the culprits go back to their old habits and reopen their businesses immediately.

Kayirebwa did not open a can of worms, she rather jolted authorities out of their sleep, that there was need to enforce the law.

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