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For Ras Kimono: Why the intellectual property rights fight must continue

Ras Kimono .<br />Photo Youtube

There was something of a classic Nigerian reggae music renaissance between 2013 and 2016, with many of the hit makers of the 80s and 90s suddenly being in high demand on the live music circuit.

From Majek Fashek to Victor Essiet to Orits Wiliki and the recently deceased Ras Kimono, the music came back in a huge way.

To my mind, a few factors were responsible for this revival.

Music streaming was just taking root in Nigeria and many of the older record labels were aggressively digitising their catalogue at the time.

Streaming companies appeared to stake their success not just on new material and put a lot of marketing effort into historical content as well.

At around the same time, big band live music came back initially through groups like the Shuga Band and the Eboni Band, and finally through others like the Bantu Crew at Afropolitan vibes.

A surprise feature of any of these veteran artistes was guaranteed to keep the event trending in the news and on social media for weeks afterwards.

I met Ras Kimono a few times over this period during my work with the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) and one of the leading Nigerian music streaming companies at the time.

It was frequently tense and adversarial between myself, being on the operator side, and some of the COSON leadership (being on the regulatory side), but one thing I always agreed with Chief Okoroji on was that it was perverse for veteran musicians to have nothing to show for the popularity of their music.

Of course, this will not apply to musicians who frittered all the money they made away on fast living.

However, in a country that has never paid more than a hint of lip service to intellectual property rights (IPRs) generally, there probably is very little difference, as the framework to protect their revenue streams is shoddy.

COSON, in spite of the controversy currently dogging its affairs, has performed the very crucial task of establishing that venues and businesses that play music publicly must be licensed.

Hopefully, it will sort out its licensing equation soon. The other big issue however is the unlicensed reproduction of content, both physical and, at an alarmingly exponential rate, digital.

This is not limited to music and sound recordings – film producers generally accept that they only have a 2-4 week window after release before pirated copies hit the market.

Many musicians are resigned to the pirate network being a better distribution channel and have been known to approach the kingpins with their material, sacrificing revenues on the altar of fame.

Court injunctions are indeed available, but they take a few weeks to get and then the police must be given 48-72 hours’ notice to enable them prepare for the enforcement raid.

My colleagues in the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association of Nigeria (IPLAN) have relayed experiences of some crooked policemen going to warn pirates of impending raids and, as a result, leaving empty warehouses on the raid days.

This is not a new problem either. I have an uncle who used to work for the Nigerian Phonographic Society in the 80s and was responsible for organising raids on unlicensed duplicators of protected.

He left the organisation because the police started pointing him out to the arrested suspects as the person responsible for their continued detention.

When the economy was rebased in 2014, the Nigerian creative industry was reported as contributing $6bn to the country’s GDP.

This was without the government plugging all the revenue loopholes or, as we like to say sometimes, ‘in spite of government, not because of it.’

The government of today is looking to expand its revenue pot but seems to be overlooking all it could earn in VAT and ancillary accruals on larger volumes of official merchandise.

This same government permitted thousands of unlicensed copies of the new Super Eagles jersey to be imported and sold. Tomorrow, it will complain about “lost revenue” to foreign manufacturers.

It is trite and should not need saying but IPRs are the bedrock of innovation and creativity.

If there are no safeguards against infringement, there is much less motivation to invest time, effort or money in creating content or improving its quality.

A regime that permits infringement reduces the life work of musicians like Ras Kimono to dust.

The law says the copyright in his compositions will last until 70 years after his passing.

In an ideal world, it would mean his children and grandchildren would also reap the fruit of his labours.

In our world, where his and his colleagues’ music and films receive next to no real protection, it is a different matter entirely.

RIP Ras Kimono.

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