The nagging feud by the two Copyright Management Organisations (CMOs), Music Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) and Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), plus other nasty theatrics regularly playing up would continue to impoverish Nigerian musicians whose accruing wealth is wasting. And as the battle for supremacy reach a head, the current A-list artistes have refused to subscribe to the programme for reasons you’d find out in this article. LANRE ODUKOYA spoke to pundits and singers who bared their minds on why they won’t entrust their royalties to Nigerian CMOs and how the distribution of the rights of Nigerian musicians is the least considered in rights collection and distribution.
From all indication, the lingering bad blood between COSON and MCSN which culminated in years of litigation back and forth, is pathetically similar to the mudslinging that festers among politicians who often claim their interest in public office is to better the lives of the common man.
In a single breadth, it’s interesting to know that the job of the CMOs doesn’t confer so much as being brandished with attendant chaos like the ones the Nigerian music industry has witnessed these past few years.
The Orits Wiliki-led MCSN and COSON have fought for the monopoly of the rights management of Nigerian musicians for almost two decades without recourse to those at the receiving end of their war- Nigerian musicians. This they do, almost forgetting they’re statutorily non-profit making but only permitted to spare 30percent of the accruing funds for overall operations of the rights management and distribution.
But one must first understand how copyright management works to decipher who errs, where and in some cases, for how long.
According to copyrights protection activist, Olugbenga Olatunji:
“The Copyright Act 1988 (as amended) and the Copyright (Collective Management Organisations) Regulations 2007 are the applicable laws to this discussion. Both COSON and MCSN are CMOs. The Copyright Act defines a CMO as ‘an association of copyright owners which has its principal objectives as the negotiating and granting of licenses, collecting and distributing of royalties in respect of copyright works.’ The opposite of CMO is individual management of rights. Almost all countries prefer CMO because of its advantages such as suitability to manage rights in the secondary copyright market, economies of scale advantage that leads to reduced transaction cost, availability of blanket licensing, special benefits to upcoming artistes, and collective enforcement power.”
He furthered his explanations in practical terms:
“Copyright confers exclusive right on all musicians (with recognised exceptions) to authorise the use of their songs by any user, such that anyone who uses their songs without authorisation will be liable for infringement. The implication of this in practical term (using Davido as an example) is that anyone, any business, or any broadcasting corporation who desires to use Davido’s FIA track for some commercial purpose must secure his approval before use. This brings Davido under the obligation to enforce his right against erring people or businesses. For instance, against how many individuals can Davido enforce this right? How many radio or TV stations in Lagos alone can he visit? What about other users of music such as shopping malls, eatery, nightclubs, hotels, etc. in the 36 states of the federation and FCT? How many of them can he single-handedly visit to enforce this right? Assuming he acquires some supernatural power to do this, what about the cost implication of concluding authorisation agreements with each of these users? Will it be worth it after all?”
Sadly, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) which is the legal regulator for the industry seems. Because of its status as a non-approved CMO, MCSN has been involved in legal tussle with COSON, NCC and other rights users as a way of staying afloat in the business of rights management.
In a chat with Sunday Are, one of Wizkid’s handlers in Nigeria, he addressed why the youngsters have refused to subscribe to any plan under these CMOs;
“Even before I started working with Wizkid, I mean when I was with the defunct MoHits, did D’Banj subscribed to what they were doing? No, they refused to subscribe to COSON because they were never properly carried along. They go behind these artistes to collect money without their knowledge. And they failed to demonstrate how they arrived at what they want to distribute as rights from their intellectual properties. As a responsible organisation, you must lay bare these things on the table for them to understand. Let me ask you, who among those running the affairs and the artistes on those platforms are relevant today? We tour all over Africa and the world, the songs are played everywhere, you have to be transparent about how you arrive at what you’re paying them. These young people are also smart, maybe smarter than you think.”
Pretty Okafor, the President of Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) and the other half of the defunct music group, Junior and Pretty, also gave insights into why the young artistes won’t trust the CMOs, COSON, in particular.
“There was a time we were all subscribing to CMOs, and that was the era of PMRS and MCSN, I think. Then we were signed to Premium Music and the CMOs were just some side kick, because we were collecting royalties from the big record label. In 1993/94, Premium Music was in charge and by 1997, the industry has lost its grip to piracy. So, that was when the collecting societies started booming. For this younger generation, none of the societies has been transparent enough. Even the so-called COSON that we manage to present as the saving grace for creative industry has failed us. They were all sitting aloof to see how COSON would perform. I remember a time PSquare challenged COSON that what they earned wasn’t what they were supposed to get. The new generation of artistes won’t subscribe if they don’t see the profit of belonging to a CMO. Even when COSON finally wrote PSquare a cheque, they said they would never collect it and they didn’t till date. They said they’d rather go and subscribe to a CMO outside and get their money. They know no matter how you collect their money, you will still hand it to them someday, but COSON would rather share the money among others. Because they signed a blanket bill with NCC, they think once you don’t collect your money, they’d use the general distribution act to share the money. And the artists are also wise, they want to see the data that you employed to deliver their rights. COSON cannot explain how it gets what for who with sufficient data as it is practiced in other developed societies.”
Reggae exponent, Patoranking, also shares the same sentiments: “Trust is earned to further any serious engagement. You see what Tuface has also said about COSON. We all can see what is happening and will only trust a tested CMO.”
“My friend, the truth is that except they are forced to collapse both COSON and MCSN with a legislation that disallows any other operator of rights management, this fight won’t end and artistes will be swindled. Does it not bother you that for instance, even while COSON carried the day in all of the litigation wars, its house has never been in order? And it’s largely due to the allegation that Chief Tony Okoroji runs a divisive business and has refused to submit himself to forensic audit as demanded by a faction of the same house. Of course at their meetings, some figures are brandied to represent financial auditing, but is that audit forensic? The answer is no. You cannot influence the choice of the auditing firm that audits the finance you preside over without manipulation. When you pay the piper, you dictate the tunes.”
Singer Tuface’s outburst has also triggered a wave of reactions and may have further reassured the young artistes, that they weren’t wrong in shunning the CMOs anyway.
“From the figures shared recently, COSON has lost about N250m to the crisis that erupted with the December 7, 2017 sacking of Chief Tony Okoroji as its chairman. The society collected N200m less than previous year and spent over N50m on lawsuits and office security within the year.
Simple compliance with the NCC’s directives or submission to the wide call for independent audit to prove the innocence of the directors against allegations of financial misconduct may have saved COSON at least, N230m, that’s assuming the audit cost N20m’. To worsen issues, the license don kuku expire sef making it criminal for COSON to demand and collect royalties on behalf of members”, he said.
Then today we see this: “With respect to the COSON mandate to carry on its operations … COSON has been assured by its team of lawyers that with the various issues still awaiting determination at various courts and with the recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, no one has the power to unilaterally stop the operations of COSON.” “Lawyers”, “various issues”, “various courts” because of a simple forensic audit?
Then came the worst of all the news, the operating system of COSON which had expired wasn’t renewed by the NCC and a Supreme Court order disbanding the new board also rattled the last CMO standing.
An Afro-pop singer, one of the raves of the moment who prefers to be anonymous quoted said:
“Have you seen the list of those attended the AGM? Does that represent my generation? That alone is sufficient indication that today’s music stars refused to enlist with COSON for their rights management. The Davido, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Wizkid of this time and age would rather follow the counsel of Tuface with whom they share common fate in rights distribution and management.”
In the run of play and with the benefit of hindsight, things aren’t quite looking good; there’s not a time in human history that music pays as much as it does today with Wizkid, a 28-year-old, unarguably Africa’s highest earning artiste. It speaks to fairness and progress to imagine having platforms that provide accountable, transparent and efficient rights collection and management for these artists whose reign won’t be forever. The royalties alone can take care of them when the chips are down and they may never become insolvent and resorting to public begging for medicals when health fails as it sometimes would.