Royalty Politics Maul COSOMA

For what I think is uncounted times now, I have written about the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA).
COSOMA was established in 1992 and it operates under the 1989 Copyright Act which protects copyrights and “neighboring” rights in Malawi.

Although the Registrar General administers the Patent and Trademarks Act, which protects industrial intellectual property rights in Malawi, COSOMA has a very central role in this aspect.

At the moment, rules that govern the World Trade Organisation (WTO) allow Malawi because it is only a less developed country to delay full implementation of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement until 2016.

Government through the Industry and Trade Ministry is working with COSOMA and the Registrar General to align relevant domestic legislation with the WTO TRIPs agreement with technical assistance from the Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO).

A few weeks ago I wrote right here that COSOMA has partnered with Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) in a new initiative where they will be using an electronic system that will now be able to capture all musical works performed or played on the radio.
I indicated further that COSOMA is championing this initiative in collaboration with the Geneva based, UN specialised agency on intellectual property matters, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
WIPO has chosen Malawi to pilot the initiative because of the commendable work COSOMA has been doing over the years.
May I also remind readers here that in Malawi most artists resort to other form of gainful employment as almost 90% of artists need to combine jobs in this way to manage to see the next sunrise.
In this case, the musician is either in a gainful employment where s/he is engaged in small businesses and employment in the public and private sector or will be gaping for survival in poorly patronized musical shows to force ends meet.
COSOMA has at least managed to bring smiles on the faces of most artists through royalties.
I once wrote here that on December 29, 2009, Lawrence Mbenjere set a new record when he became the first musician to cart home money in excess of over K2.5 million in royalties.
What was also historical was that since the establishment of the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA), K2, 523, 459.16 that Mbenjere got was the biggest money it has dished out to a single musician.
And at the same event, Lucious Banda carted home K1, 094, 579.10, Thomas Chibade K712, 742.48. Joseph Nkasa who in 2003 got a million got K597, 942.27 this time round.
Now without a further elaboration, I think I can say here without fear of contradiction that COSOMA has indeed managed to provide solace for our musicians.
But now, without any regard to what the 1989 Copyright Act underscores, government says it wants to privatize COSOMA.
It all started from one broadcaster that accumulated over K8 million in royalties for musicians and was failing to honour.
The law took its course and on a number of occasions, the head of the broadcaster told leadership that, ‘look, we have been paralyzed by sheriffs and all our vehicles have been taken and we will not be able to give you coverage’.
The leadership on several occasions told the courts to rescue the broadcaster, but since this problem kept on recurring, the government thought the problem is COSOMA.
Why is COSOMA trying to paralyze the work of a well serving government instrument?
The question to privatize COSOMA therefore has its attendant and serious questions that require immediate answers.
Where are the modalities of trying to achieve this? If a private person takes over COSOMA what happens to the debt that is yet to be honoured in terms of royalties?
If institutions like the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) cannot pay musicians through ‘a fellow’ parastatal – COSOMA, is expecting MBC to pay a privately run COSOMA, a genuine one?
And what would become of the welfare of artists during the transition period?
Obviously, there are no answers to all these questions, because the decision to privatise COSOMA comes from a political whim which, usually, has no guided sight where the end justifies the means.


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