in Kenya, music, Piracy

What You Didn’t Know about the National Music Policy

A lot of musicians in the the country have been complaining about their inability to make money from their art. The reason they give for this, well the one that comes out loudest, is piracy.

I have a different view from that but this is not the time for it.

Recently stakeholders from the music industry released the final version of the music policy document that they hope may become law or inform it in some way or form.

I took the time to go through it because I was worried about what the implications may be for technology.

I like what I’ve read, particularly on getting schools and institutions to take music more seriously than they currently do, where people consider music a “soft” subject. Getting people to appreciate the beauty of local music is something I can get behind. 

This doesn’t mean however that I don’t have concerns.

Let’s start in Chapter 2 Section 10, Music Technology, Policy Statements

This phrase was originally in Section 11 phrased “The government will work with ISPs to ensure that illegitimate sites are less readily available than legitimate sites.” Now it reads:

The Government will work with Internet service providers(ISPs) to ensure that on-line piracy is minimized.

The vagueness, language softened to seem less aggressive than the original, of this phrase is extremely worrying but even more than that I worry about how a law with phrasing like this may be used to suppress free speech. Further, who decides what is piracy and how to combat it? Around the world we’ve seen that the creative industry prefers to over reach than carefully consider each case.

Next we have this: 

The Government shall take measures to ensure an efficient digital copyright licensing system including supporting the administration of the private copying levy within the existing, new and emerging technology advancements.

This is a new addition from the original version released earlier in the year. Before I get into why this is problem for me, let’s define what a private copying levy is. From Wikipedia:

Also known as blank media tax or levy, it is a government-mandated scheme in which a special tax or levy (additional to any general sales tax) is charged on purchases of recordable media.

What recordable media means that everything from cassettes all the way to flash drives and hard disks(or contains them) i.e anything that can store media/music. What this means is that all these thing are set to become more expensive. What this means for a country in which most of the population can’t afford these things and is trying to jump head first into the information age I leave to the readers imagination. The worst thing about this law is that it assumes that every single one of these devices is used for copyright infringement and we need to compensate artists before even proving that. It’s not fair to consumers.

Meanwhile the European Union’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has issued a ruling say that such levies are a complex, unworkable mess, and should be abolished completely across the whole of Europe. Which I would point out some EU states have already started to do.

Let’s move on to Chapter 2 Section 11, Copyright and Related Rights, Policy Statements

Let’s begin with this:

The Government shall take measures to put structures in place for effective investigation, regulation and prosecution of offenders involved in piracy and other copyright infringement

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this part per se, I’m just slightly concerned about how it’ll be implemented and the punishment of small scale infringers. I’ve read of cases around the world of overzealous prosecution perhaps best illustrated with the case of Arron Swartz, who killed himself after the US government came after him for hacking after downloading thousands of publicly available documents using MIT’s network.

Finally there’s this:

Government will ensure laws on internet use are in line with emerging technological trends as regards to copyright and intellectual property

What are these trends? Would they care to spell them out clearly? It’s not that I don’t have strong suspicions on what they mean but I don’t what to make my assumptions public until I know more.

As I said before I like the rest of the policy a lot but these four phrases give me pause from wholly endorsing it. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Peace!!!

Updated September 4th to reflect the final policy document released in August 2015; adding information about Chapter 2 section 10

  1. The scope of the music policy is a bit limited. (Pun attempted). The focus on technology, digitization, archiving and piracy is misplaced. In my view it is drafted from a purely business or financial mindset. True intent of firm music policy should identify authentic Kenyan musical scales, music standards (as with Jazz Standards), stylistic frameworks. When Kamau wishes to build a house, the architect listens to his dream, and uses the standards and frameworks of architecture to shift that to reality. Where are the Kenyan musical scales,standards and frameworks? This is what is lacking. In years past albeit under political patronage, there were topical songs,singing games,work songs,rounds, dirges etc defined as such with public understanding of the structure, form, intent and purpose of the music, and a framework from which to propel crativity. Today, artists build content in the absence of an understanding of frameworks and content structure. I would pray for an amendment of this policy document to truly focus on what is the best practice form and structure of its industry, as is done in any other industry vertical.

  2. Hey William,
    Thanks for the comment. I don't think it's limited or even focused on the technology. There's a lot in there about the other stuff too. In fact the only technology things I could find were the ones I mentioned.
    I do agree that we need to focus a lot more on the foundations and fundamentals though.

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