Thursday, 13 June 2013

Uganda’s Hip-Hop President wraps up rights in the Rap!

Another very interesting and thought provoking post from Tony Kakooza (Sipi Law) in Uganda who has now joined Afro-IPs blogging team:

Deriving Copyright from Folklore: Uganda’s Hip-Hop President and the battle for cultural ownership.

The Office of the Registrar of Copyrights in Uganda has been handling a rather interesting case involving the President of Uganda in what can be seen as a battle over ownership of culture. The history of this dispute goes back to the Presidential campaigns in 2010:

In October 2010, the President employed the music production prowess of Kampala music artist Richard Kawesa to record a rap song within State House that was titled: Do you want another Rap? This was an innovative technique to especially capture the hearts of the young voters before the looming elections the following year. The rap song achieved its purpose, with President Museveni taking more than two-thirds of the electoral vote (approx. 68%) in February 2011.

Conversant of his Intellectual Property rights and the huge success that would follow the song (See YouTube video here), the President decided to register his copyright much to the chagrin of the Ankole community of which he is a part of. Two senior members of the Ankole Community, Mr. Mwambusya Ndebesa and Dr. Katono Nzarwa Deo filed an objection to the registration of copyright in the Registrar’s Office at the Uganda Registration and Services Bureau. The basis of their objection, briefly, was that the rap song is not original, having been derived from Ankole folklore which is in the public domain and constituting public property. The argument was that the poems from which the song derives, had been recited in the Ankole community for hundreds of years and thus the President had no right to grab ownership of the poems through his rap song.

This matter is highly intriguing for a number of reasons: The Uganda Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act of 2006 has a flimsy provision for Traditional Cultural Expressions/Folklore. Section 5 simply lists Traditional Folklore as part of the works eligible for Copyright protection without any appreciation as to the underlying differences between Folklore and works of copyright. Secondly, as this matter raised alarming bells over the appropriation of culture, again we find ourselves asking – who owns culture and who controls the means of production of culture such as through Cultural expressions? There have been on-going debates on related questions globally for over twenty years and WIPO is still tussling over the matter through the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore(IGC Committee) with little progress to date.

It is noteworthy that the very person appropriating cultural expressions in this matter was the President of Uganda, but would it have made any difference if it had been someone outside of the Ankole community? Eventually, in her ruling on the objection to Copyright registration (delivered February 14, 2013), the Assistant Registrar of Copyright, Ms. Mercy K. Kainobwisho granted the President’s registration of copyright as a derivative work.

Afro Leo wonders how the two draft pieces of TK legislation competing for Zuma's pen in RSA would handle this situation? Would the community (assuming it could be identified) be able to enforce their rights (assuming they could be identified) under each piece of legislation and how would it work? And could it be recorded? It is interesting that President Museveni opted to have the work registered in his own name.
If you are viewing this on the blog (and not via email) you can listen to the Rap (presumably under licence or an infringement exception!) below:

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