Kenya, November 11, 2008
Musical copyright protection or personal wealth creation?
Back in the day, I chose my Kenyan matatu by its paint job and musical selection - the more wild and African the better. But today the matatus of Nairobi are quiet, their proud African voices silenced by a music tax.
The Music Copyright Society of Kenya has put a tax on the sounds of Africa by requiring that matatus pay Sh2,000 ($27) or more to MCSK in royalties to play music in their share-ride vans. Now that may not sound like much money, but itâ€™s the concept that strikes me (and a few matatu drivers) as crooked.
Matatus, taxis, and other commercial passenger vehicles usually play the radio or CD's. With the radio, it's the broadcasters that should have already paid royalties. With CD's and tapes, how can the MCSK make such a blanket tax without knowing if the music was legally bought or even made by the musicians they represent? Its not like MCSK is passing on the royalties to Bob Marley or any other Western artist. Its not even paying it own members all that much.
MCSK is making money from Kenyans. By going after everyone from radio broadcasters and concert promoters, to bars and restaurants, down to hotels and cyber cafes MCSK is pulling in over Sh60 million (almost $1 million) a year. Yet its paying its 1,300 musician members a base Sh6,000 ($8) per year, with the highest payment only Sh 300,000 ($4,000).
You can do the math to see that MCSK's royalty income far exceeds its payments. Where might this money be going? Trainings in 2005 sure do not impress. I wonder if the staff salaries would?