After government enacted copyright issues into a law under the Copyright Act in 1989, the country had to wait for three more years before what the law said at the time which was to have The Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) as a statutory body; it was indeed established in 1992 to implement some of what the act stipulated.
Its clear-cut role means it had dual responsibility as a copy rights watchdog for its seven rights holder association members, as well as advisor to the Government to ensure that Malawi fulfils its international obligations on copyrights and related rights.
Cosoma, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in Lilongwe last year, is quoted in other quarters as a multidisciplinary collective management organisation, mandated to administer collectively the rights of authors, composers, adaptors, performers, producers of sound recordings and broadcasting organisations.
The body’s major objective is to ensure that the rights of creative people in the literary, artistic, and musical fields are efficiently and effectively promoted.
Although the Registrar General administers the Patent and Trademarks Act, which protects industrial intellectual property rights in Malawi, as seen above Cosoma has also 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).
My other task today is to yet again look at the relevance of Cosoma in promoting musical fields efficiently and effectively as its one of its core existence.
By the way Cosoma is also involved in recruitment and registration of members, monitoring use of works in broadcast programmes and public places, and distribution of royalties to artists
And you would think with royalties, musicians would be far fully fledged in their career as well as well being.
But we have examples of how easy it is to pirate the works of musicians in the country; we have examples of how unaccounted the collections and the distribution of royalties thereof are carried out by the body.
In March 2011, I wrote right here that Cosoma had 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 and therefore be able to collect what is due to musicians.
I indicated at the time that Cosoma was championing this initiative in collaboration with the Geneva based, UN specialised agency on intellectual property matters, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and that WIPO had chosen Malawi to pilot the initiative because of the commendable work COSOMA has been doing over the years.
But while the conduct of the body is not making sense I have started to think what former President Bingu wa Mutharika wanted to do in order to let the body create more opportunities for musicians and its other beneficiaries by privatising which I was against at the time was the right thing to do.
Imagine it was on December 29, 2009, when 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.
At that time it looked historical that since the establishment Cosoma the 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 this is the fourth year and no word from the body on royalty disbursement is coming out.
There is a totally opaque wall enclosing activities of this body which supposed to serve the artists and docile that Malawians are, even our artists are not asking the right questions to Cosoma regarding what is due to them.
Then my argument about Mutharika over the privatisation of Cosoma was bordering on the fact that it would be against what the 1989 Copyright Act underscores.
The explanation from Cosoma then was that the hubbub all started because government was trying to protect its Malawi Broadcasting Corporation after it accumulated over K8 million in royalties for musicians and was failing to honour.
But when the figure even reached well above K50 million at one time MBC issued a cheque of a staggering K45 million which the body is yet what happened to it, or I missed the explanation.
I once argued that if institutions like MBC cannot pay musicians through ‘a fellow’ parastatal – Cosoma, would MBC then expected to pay a privately run COSOMA.
I think I was wrong. In Malawi there is always a laissez faire approach to what are our responsibilities. Because at Cosoma what I see lacking is business discipline and as an economist Bingu saw this malaise that’s why he wanted it privatised.
You know what, MBC even pays royalties for ‘Nyimbo za m’maboma’ and our Cosoma has never made an effort to trace who did the traditional music and give them something. They take all the money for what they call ‘administration’. But if you check the Copyright Act, is this, what is supposed to be done. Perhaps I am lazy and I don’t look with both eyes on these issues. Then seriously, help me.
Looking at the raw deal Cosoma has given the artists 21 years after it was formed; I think it has to go into the private hands seriously.