In what appears to be a landmark case, Prof. George Kakoma has sued the Government of Uganda for copyright infringement and refusal to pay him royalties for the use of his 1962 composition, which subsequently became the National anthem.
According to the plaint recently filed before the High court in Kampala under civil suit 197 of 2008, the plaintiff composed a song in 1962 in tribute to Uganda in response to an advert run by Government. His composition was chosen, in consideration of which he was paid 2,000 shillings (about US$14,200 at 1962 exchange rates). The plaintiff argues that there were no conditions attached to the payment.
Over the succeeding years, the plaintiff sought payment of royalties from the Government for the use of his song to no avail. He tried to interest the state in concluding an assignment of the copyright in the anthem which was not forthcoming. The pleadings state that "the government of Uganda subsequently expressed an interest to have the plaintiff's copyright assigned to it and formally wrote to the plaintiff but no agreement was ever concluded between the parties".
In a nutshell, whereas the government showed an interest in giving some form of financial compensation to Prof. Kakoma for his composition, no payment was actually effected.
As the suit proceeds to hearing, it will be interesting to see how the substantive issues of ownership will be dealt with, as well as whether the court will pronounce itself on the use of adaptations, translations and other expressions of the Anthem. Other issues that are of jurisprudential value are whether a state can be found to have infringed copyright of a national anthem and if so, what kind of permissions would prevent an action for infringement from succeeding. Unlike the Copyright Act, 2006, the 1964 Copyright Act of Uganda which would have applied for most of the period over which the claim applies did not explicitly mention moral rights. Is this or is it not an issue?! Hopefully, the court will address these and more interesting legal issues to come in its judgment.
The plaintiff is seeking the following remedies (paraphrased):
1) A declaration that he is the lawful owner of copyright over the song comprised in the national anthem;
2) A declaration that the defendant is liable for copyright infringement and for inducing the infringement of the said copyright;
3) Royalties for all the previous use of the plaintiff’s composition over a span of 40 years.
4) General damages for infringement of the copyright
5) A permanent injunction restraining the defendant and its agents from further infringing or inducing infringement of the said works.
6) Interest on the above claims at court rate from the date of judgment until payment in full.
7) Costs of the suit.
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Author sues Government for use of Anthem