Rwanda: Media Owners Threaten to Stop Playing Local Music Amid Royalties Saga

23 September 2020

Several local broadcasters have threatened to stop playing songs of local musicians if they are required to pay royalties.

The move follows a complaint raised by Rwanda Society of Authors (RSAU) in August denouncing unlawful exploitation of copyrighted art works by media houses.

In 2017, in partnership with Rwanda Society of Authors (RSA), Rwanda Development Board (RDB) approved a tariff that necessitates everyone who uses any artistic product commercially to pay royalties.

As per RDB's tariffs, media houses, taking into account that they are commercial, sponsored or community-based, are charged between Rwf300,000 and Rwf4 million per year.

Justin Mugabo, the owner of Isango Star radio/TV, told The New Times he is okay to let artists sell their music in whichever way but insists his media house will only play the songs of artists whenever they need his support in the promotion of their music.

"If you bring your songs to us, we will play them, and if you don't want us to play your songs without paying, we won't play them. I have never heard of a radio paying artistes to play their songs. I won't pay an artist to play their songs because I don't get any benefit out of it," Mugabo said.

"No one is willing to violate artists' rights on their intellectual property, what we have been doing is helping them in the promotion of their music," he added.

Mugabo, who has so far received requests from over 60 local artistes who want their songs played on Isango Star Radio/ TV, warned that the musicians' umbrella [RSAU] looking for royalties from radios and TVs will, sooner or later, take the blame for putting the music industry a step back."

Commenting on Rwanda's law on intellectual property, Louis Kamanzi, manager and proprietor of Flash FM/TV, said whoever tabled it should have consulted media houses.

"We need to know where the law came from and why it was tabled without consulting us to be able to play our part and understand it before it is enacted. We want to consult the Ministry of Justice so they can give us a chance to say something on the law," Kamanzi argued.

Need for discussions

Musician Yvan Buravan suggests that, before requesting media houses to pay, all concerned players should have a common understanding on the issue and see whether the move is feasible.

"For instance, all my songs played on Radio France Internationale (RFI) are paid for, the same happens when Trace Mziki plays my songs but you might wonder why the same is not happening here in Rwanda. There is a need for profound discussions about the move because we want concerned media owners to do this not because they are forced to do it but because they understand its importance," Buravan told The New Times.

While he hopes that Rwanda's entertainment business will also grow, the singer is confident it will help artists to improve the quality of the music they do or else their music won't qualify for a radio or TV airplay.

Marie France Niragire, who owns Genesis TV, agrees with the idea to pay royalties but fears only a few will be able to sell and suggests discussions should be held between RSAU, media owners, government institutions and the artists who invest money in their music and find a solution to this before thinking about asking media houses to pay.

"For instance, all the songs that we play are brought to our media house by artists themselves, of course targeting promotion. But what if I agree to play the music of just three artists I can afford to pay? What will happen to other artists? We should meet and come up with a clear solution," she said.

Kamanzi says even a petition should be started to return the law to parliament as he does not see any room to discuss as long as the law has been passed.

"But since there is no room for discussion, then we can look for advice from lawyers about the possibility of petitioning against the law," he said.

The New Times has learnt that radio and TV owners are discussing the issue and are expected to come out with a decision on what to do next during an upcoming meeting slated on Wednesday, September 23.

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