The proprietor of Contact FM, Albert Rudatsimburwa, won a case that had pitted his media house and a host of others against traditional artiste Cécile Kayirebwa in a court battle for infringing on her patent rights by playing her music without paying loyalties. In an interview with The New Times' Jean de la Croix Tabaro, Rudatsimburwa, himself a musician, analyses the crux of the ruling. Excerpts:
What formed the basis of the case against you and other media houses?
Albert Rudatsimburwa (AR): The allegations Kayirebwa filed against five radio stations and Rwanda Television were that media have been using her songs without her authorisation. Her lawyer was arguing that this has had a negative impact on her music business, because by freely airing her music, it stopped people from buying her products.
And what's your take on this?
First of all, this artiste has appeared on all these radio stations she is accusing of having infringed on her rights and all the time she appeared on these radios she was promoting her music.
Secondary, without the media, you don't have a music industry, same thing as without the media, you can't promote art and culture. On the contrary, the media have been supportive of generating new revenues for our musicians and this is not unique to Rwanda.
You could not have a star of Beckham's (David, English footballer) calibre if you didn't have the media. Same applies to legends such as Bob Marley. Now, saying the media was abusing her work is an abuse in itself, especially because she has been part of it.
All the time she was hosted (for interviews), it was to promote her work and she never paid for the airtime. So, there is a contradiction here. Actually, the media have done more to promote artistes than exploiting them. She claims that Orinfor wasn't authorised to air video clips of her songs. The court found the songs are registered in RDB [Rwanda Development Board] in her name, and that's how the public broadcaster lost the case.
What about other radios?
Our radios have been in touch with Cecile all of this time, and there has been an understanding that we promote her works free of charge. You know, traditional music is not the latest fashion that everyone would like to listen to on the radio. I would rather play young artistes all day if it's about audience.
Before liberalisation of the media, artistes had no platform. There was only Orinfor. It was not much their call to promote artistes. These young artistes are there, because private radios came and are promoting the industry. Then penalising private media is killing something which is growing.
How do you think artistes can make money without conflicting with the media?
In other countries, in the beginning you go to a studio, record and make a song. That's why we have record companies, who market the product. The real cash is there. We don't have that process in Rwanda where, beyond the studio, we have producers who commit to distribute your products. In a country where there is such a system, the artiste earns twice.
He gets a percentage at the sale and the record company pays money to an intellectual copyright association, which we don't have in Rwanda, and the money goes back to the artiste. That's how even the media come in and pay a retainer, a bar playing a song pays for it, etc.
Personally, I am a member of this association in Belgium and I am still getting my loyalties from proceeds from people playing my songs. Kayirebwa knows how it works because she is also member in Belgium, but the system does not exist here. Local artistes should push to have such an organisation.
Who do you think was the loser of this trial?
The creative industry here is losing because they had been extended an olive branch by the media, which may change after this ruling. Now everyone is going to think about personal interest instead of collective interest.
Secondly, this case is sending a wrong message to the music industry in that it tells the artistes, "you are not making a lot of money because of the media."
Thirdly, the media is an ally, not the enemy. The media is a supporter; you can't cut a branch you are sitting on.
What is the way forward?
We need to keep growing the industry. It's very good to find that some people are trying to record movies; I would also recommend the same for the music industry.