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Artists in the dark about international copyright laws

Wed, 7 October 2015 19:28
by Faith Haushona-Kavamba

Local artists live for any and every opportunity to cry foul when they believe that one of their counterparts are plagiarising their work or ripping them off.

We’ve seen artists use the media as their mouthpiece whilst they argue over the ownership of a song, or how they believe that their music had been sampled without their consent. They behave in an unbecoming way befitting a public figure, calling each other names and slinging mud shamelessly at each other. They even go as far as accusing other artists of plagiarising international work, but these are the very same artists who would turn around and do the exact same thing.

While some musicians who sample international artists’ work claim that they get permission from them, others seem to be in the dark about what the laws actually say, or that they indeed apply to them. It makes one wonder why it wouldn’t apply to them, but apply to other local artists when it comes to their work.

Ziska Mostert, KK’s manager, said she couldn’t comment on the copyright issue because they have not encountered such an issue, and she wouldn’t want to speak out of turn. But she advised artists that the industry as a whole needs legal advice. “Namibia needs an entertainment lawyer to assist artists. The lawyer will help with issues like this, but I do not know why a local artist would like to sample another’s work”, she stated.

The third half of the trio PDK, Patrick Mwashindange, said as far as he knew, as long as an artist sampled less than six seconds of a song, they would be staying within the scope of copyright protection. Having been in the industry for a substantial number of years now, the singer said he was aware of cases where other musicians had breached this copyright law. However, they never had to face the repercussions of their actions.

“Namibian musicians get away with a lot of things. The Namibian Society of Composers and Authors of Music (NASCAM) is supposed to monitor these things, but they don’t because they are lax. There are a lot of things going on in the industry which they do not know about,” the singer stressed.

Award-winning musician Fishman said in theory, the issue of copyright should be a simple issue, where an artist simply needs to contact the owner of the song before they use it. “I have heard a few songs from local artists who have sampled international songs. However, whether or not they are infringing international copyright laws is debatable because you have no way of knowing for sure that they did or didn’t get permission,” he reasoned. Making an example of himself, Fishman said he had contacted Diamond from Tanzania, and got permission to use a snippet of his song on a new song that he was working on locally.

Young T is one of those musicians who openly said he wasn’t exactly sure how copyright laws worked, but he operated under the assumption that as long as he acknowledged the original author of the work, it would be fine. “I don’t know how other people do their work, but I think that is the right way to go about it. They also have to be in contact with the owners of the song, and NASCAM should take offenders to task,” he noted.

Upcoming artist Treckfo also admitted to not knowing the procedures, but believes the right way to go about it was to ask permission from the owner. “If I were to sample an international artist’s song, I would probably go to NASCAM for help on how to go about it,” he said. Although he said he would ask the umbrella organization for help, Treckfo said he felt that they do not do enough to monitor local artists in violation of copyright laws involving international artists.

Seasoned musician Ras Sheehama said, “Copyright laws are very complex things, it’s hard to explain a lot of things about them. However, it goes without saying that you need to get the permission of the song’s owner before you use it. Sometimes you might be required to give a small amount which you generate from the song to that person,” he said.

Sheehama went on to explain that most artists do not understand the issue of copyright laws because they are not business-minded, acknowledging that he also had the same problem of not thinking of his music as a business when he started out. “NASCAM has a lot of work to do in terms of explaining these laws to the artists, but it’s not their responsibility alone. NASCAM has a lot of books which could educate artists about the laws, but they do not go to meetings or even consult NASCAM or their co€nstitution,” he said dejectedly.

Howver, Hip-hop artist Black-A-Moor differed with Sheehama, saying copyright laws are simple and straightforward universally in that all you need is to ask permission from the owner of a song. “There might be conditions attached to it, like you need to pay the owner a certain amount or have him feature on the new version of the song if it’s a remix. But it is also important to note that no idea under the sun is original,” the outspoken rapper charged.

He noted that artists who do not want to ask permission find a loophole by putting other artists’ songs on a mixtape, and not on an album. “I don’t know what NASCAM does about issues like this, but they need to be more proactive in how they regulate things in the industry,” he continued.

Songstress Esme and Ngutti Fruit then differed with Black-A-Moor, saying that they believed that NASCAM was doing a great job at regulating copyright issues, amongst others in Namibia. “Copyright laws do not only apply to a whole song, it can be the tune or melody of the song, or just a small part. Some people copy the whole song as is, which is bad,” Esme said.

But she was of the mind that Namibian artists go out of their way to produce original songs, although there is still some sampled music being used, which defies copyright laws. “NASCAM is trying hard to educate artists; they even had a workshop earlier this year to educate artists on issues like copyright laws,” she said.

Nonetheless, if artists were merely using other artists’ work as an inspiration, it would not be a problem. “When artists are registered with NASCAM, the organization can regulate them better and keep them on track,” Ngutti Fruit said. He too was not sure about international procedures, but thinks the best thing to do is to contact the owner of the song and ask for permission from the owner of the song. He added that he had heard about a case where a local artist had a problem with another artist whose work he sampled without permission.

The CEO of NASCAM, John Max said the issue of copyright varied from music label to music label. “It depends on the publisher and the author (owner) of the song, but it stands to reason that you need permission from them to use a sample or remake the songs. You can also negotiate what percentage of the profit to give the owner, where it applies,” he explained.

Max went on to say that sometimes artists do not register the songs with sampled content with his organisation, and so they cannot take any action against them. Although they have heard of a few issues with sampling, he said they have never had an incident where international artists complained about their work being illegally sampled. But, this did not mean that it might not happen in future. “We encourage all our members to come up with their own original songs, but if they choose to sample or remake another artist’s work, we encourage them to follow the copyright and industry laws,” he concluded.