Saturday 3 September 2016

Afro Ng'ombe

IP and African Music Industries: An Interview with Phil Chard - part 5

In our final installment of Little Leo’s chat* with Phil Chard of African Hip Hop Blog, we discuss non-disclosure agreements, international appeal and the role of the legal system in strengthening the music industry in Africa. (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.)
Little Leo:  You mentioned in this instance with the Zambian case {see end of part 3}, there’s agreements that the artists have signed maybe not fully aware of all of the rights that they were signing over.  You’ve also talked about how you’ve gone into meetings with companies where it’s being down as a pitch for your ideas but then they run with it and don’t come back to you.  How frequent are agreements in those kinds of situations?  Are people using nondisclosure agreements?  Are people in the industry aware of what’s in their agreements?  Is there a high-level of legal agreement use, or other types of practices?

Phil:  It’s really on a case-by-case basis.  There are times when companies have approached me and they have wanted to be partners in whatever ventures they were doing and they presented NDAs.  In certain instances, for example if a pitch has gone to tenders where there’s a lot of different people pitching, in the beginning signing an NDA never crossed our minds.  We were like, “Ok, since this a reputable institution and they’ve got a lot of people pitching to them, why would this happen?”

There have been other times where it was like a job interview.  I had recently left my old job and someone had suggested. “Phil, you’d actually be a perfect fit for this company A.  Why don’t you speak to this individual and just highlight what you plan to do or what value you can bring to the company and then hear what he says.”  So that’s exactly what I did.  I emailed him, he said “Ok Phil, just give me a brief idea of what you’ve done, what you can do, what you see.”  I sent him a two-pager just highlighting what I noticed inadequacies were, where I could step in and I could assist.  Thereafter, he never really got back to me.  I saw him a couple other times after that.  He basically brushed me off.  And then, I start to see them implementing changes that are very similar to the issues I had pointed out.

In such an instance, unless I can point to meeting minutes that they had that show I sent this email on this date, he suggested this change on this date, that shows that he’s taking my stuff, it really is a messy situation.  And the moment that you pursue that, you’re now making an enemy of that organization.  This industry is so small, very soon you need to work with that organization, so you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

L: A lot of times when I’m talking to people about international music and international agreements with respect to copyright and things, a big issue that comes up is, “well, artists need to decide whether to sing in their local language or to sing in English in order to get national renown.”  And it least so far, it seems African artists aren’t thinking that they need to choose that.  What is your perspective on that?

P: It’s a double-edged sword.  I think, in the beginning, especially in hip hop, a lot of African artists did that.  So, they all stuck to English and it limited their audiences a great deal.  The moment artists started realizing that “first of all I need to appeal to the people that look like me, that are from my region, that are from my area, tell them stories in their languages,” things started really blowing up.  And there’s value to having your own identity as opposed to being a carbon copy.  I’ve always said that, especially if you’re trying to appeal to Americans, Americans will not buy someone that sounds like an artist that they can get down the street.

L:  That’s true.

P: They’re looking for something original.  If you aren’t being original, then what’s your appeal?

L: I don’t want to take up much more of your time, this has been very generous of you.  Last question just to sum things up and bringing it back to intellectual property and kind of that legal aspect.  During your rant, somebody had kind of piped in and said, “well how do you sum up the industry?”  And you said, “We need more authenticity, more integration, better standards.”  How can the law or the legal system help with that?

P: Um…

L: Or can’t it?  Maybe that’s the answer.

P: In certain aspects, it can’t.  In protecting intellectual property, it’s there.  But there’s also the situation where the laws haven’t really been tested, so you can’t point to exact instances where the law failed to protect the interests of the artists or vice versa.

What definitely needs to happen is there needs to be a lot of education.  A lot of sensitization as to the value of property, as to who owns what and how those relationships work.  Like I said, consumers need to understand that pirating content is illegal, because it has become such a norm here where people who don’t have a satellite subscription are watching Game of Thrones and they don’t realize that they’re breaking the law.  The same thing with downloading albums.  There’s so many instances where, for example, an artist will release an album on iTunes---K.O.’s done this a couple of times.  

So there’s an artist called K.O. in South Africa, their policy is ‘we do not release free music. Our content is of a quality that should be paid for at all times.”  So they’ll release a song on iTunes, but fans who can’t afford iTunes don’t get it.  You’ll find instances where a fan will then download that song and then upload it to a data file host and will be proud of it and will be sharing the link and be like “dude, I’m a fan, I love you; I’m making sure everyone hears your work.”  And they have no understanding of what they’re doing.

Then on the flipside, artists also need to understand that just because the artist you’re taking your content from is American, it’s still a copyright infringement.  And their motivation behind that, I actually don’t know or understand it.  But there’s so many instances where they’re blatantly stealing melodies and music and interpolations from American artists.

And then they’ll try and pass it off as their own.  And then the same with blogs.  Almost every other week I come across a blog that’s blatantly stealing our content.  And they don’t even credit us, and they’re of the assumption that “no, I’m promoting you because I’m using your logo.”  But I’m like “that doesn’t benefit me in any manner, shape or form.”  Or even with crediting, I have my issues with that because even though you might steal my content word-for-word and then credit me properly at the bottom of the page, that doesn’t really benefit me in any manner, shape or form, because all the traffic is going to you, all the ad revenue is going to you, and I get nothing but a permalink.

I think it’s first of all educating and sensitizing the whole industry as to what’s required of them, what intellectual property actually means, and then how to enforce it.  And then once we get there, we can start gauging as to whether or not the legal side of the industry is benefiting or hindering us.

L: Alright, I think that will wrap it up.  Thank you again, so much.  Really appreciate it.
Little Leo would like to extend thanks to Phil for sitting down to share his perspectives with the Afro-IP community.  There is a lot of information here that can help those of us who strive to help people working in the continent's music industries.  Phil's ending comments reinforce that we have a lot of educational work ahead of us.
You can find Phil on Twitter at @PhilChard.
*The conversation has been edited for clarity and reading ease; it is not an exact transcript.

Afro Ng'ombe

Afro Ng'ombe

Subscribe via email (you'll be added to our Google Group)