By Fred Muwema*
The tragic death of Moses Sekibogo aka Mowzey Radio early this month is a macabre tale that left the whole country in fright. As much as we loved his music, we may not be able stave its decline, stagnation or demise especially when many would have thought that his music would live on seamlessly. Music piracy reared its ugly head and savaged Mowzey Radio’s music when he was still alive and it will continue to do so unabated even in his death. The opportunistic and parasitic tendencies in the production, distribution, broadcast and communication of music in Uganda reflected through unauthorized duplication of physical copies, low appearance and endorsement fees, poor or non-existent royalty pay, online piracy via free sharing, down loading and streaming of music content will not provide any posthumous economic benefit to his estate. If Mowzey Radio could not protect his music from piracy when he was still alive, it might be asking too much from his family which is not endowed in the art and business of music, to look out for his interest better now that he is gone.
Any further comment on this subject must first ask, who the owner of the music which was produced by Mowzey Radio and Weasel is. If you listen to all the songs of the duo, you will realise that three quarters of the voice over is done by the late Mowzey Radio. This might suppose that Mowzey Radio owned a bigger share of the music or alternatively that the two were co-authors had equal rights in the work based on their joint production and performances. Many reports have suggested that Mowzey Radio wrote all the 250 songs sung by the duo, which by itself would attach distinct moral and economic rights to him under the Copyright and other Neighbouring Rights Act 2006.
There might be some legal challenges if Weasel continues to perform or reproduce the duos music as a solo act or with a new artist unless there is a clear agreement with the estate of Mowzey Radio. But on the other hand, if Weasel asserts that he is a co-author of the music as one indivisible whole, then it may be difficult to entirely caveat his performing rights in respect of the same music. Whereas I don’t know the details of the arrangement that existed between Mowzey Radio and Weasel, I know that it might be important for the Managers of Mowzey Radio and Weasel to carry out a proper legal introspection of this issue because it might provide fodder for a future dispute.
Disputes over ownership of music in music collaborations are not new and they tend to show up even after several decades. Paul McCartney of the famous Beatles band of the 60s and 70s’ recently filed a suit in New York in 2017 against Publisher Sony/ATV in an effort to regain ownership of songs he composed in the Beatles publishing catalogue when he was with the group. Dan Rys a commentator on the case who wrote for the influential Billboard.com in a 20th January 2017 article noted that it can be quite confusing to track the ownership of one of the most valuable catalogues in music history and particularly how one of its main contributors was cut out of his own creations. It would be disheartening for the family and endearing fans of Mowzey Radio to learn at some point in the future that he was cut out of his own music creations. The reason why Paul McCartney and other dead Beatles band members still earn millions of dollars in royalties from their music is because they were professionally organized under a company in which they each held shares. This meant that the interest of each group member was defined by the number of shares held and this made it easy for the respective estates of the band members to lay specific claims to the music. Unfortunately, this business model which is best suited to provide copyright protection to music collaborations is still a mirage in Uganda.
The problems of our Ugandan Musicians are compounded by their little understanding of the law and their rights as most of them remain smitten by the attention served to them by their adoring fans which does not often translate into significant commercial value. The only artists I have seen pursue their legal rights against copyright infringers and have been able to recover substantial damages are Angela Katatumba, Obsessions and Maurice Kirya. Mowzey Radio and Weasel were also carried away by this celebrity euphoria which fed the unwanted bar brawls that we came to associate with them whilst they were not earning enough from their hard work and labour. A source from the entertainment desk of one of the major media houses informed me that Mowzey Radio and Weasel earned an average of 4m/= (US$ 1100) per show in Uganda. This may sound much in a country whose GDP per capita is less than $700 but it is soo little if you consider the size of the Mowzey Radio and Weasel music brand. I doubt there is anything much the duo earned or will earn from the commercial rent or sell of original works, payment from royalties or the download or streaming of their music on social media platforms like Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat and Instagram among others.
The estate of the late Mowzey Radio cannot expect his music to live on miraculously without making a concerted effort to protect it. There was a media buzz surrounding the death of Mowzey Radio and music pirates have taken advantage to suck the juice out of his music to the exclusion of his family. Musicians who have earned from their music have had their brands well nurtured for years after their death but I don’t see this happening with Mowzey Radio or other fallen Ugandan artists for that matter. I have for example observed that views on Youtube of Mowzey Radio’s music increased considerably after his death but I wonder whether the accounts of 2Shy Entertainment, Ugxtra Uganda, Matalisi and Swalz which are carrying this music have an arrangement to share in the revenue with his family.
As I conclude, I need to point out that the use of the popular stage name Mowzey Radio and Weasel can present a problem in the ownership and enforcement of their music rights if it was not registered as a trademark or service mark under the Trademark Act 2010. In this litigious digital age which has made it easier, faster and cheaper to illegally access any ones music, save for a passing off action, Mowzey Radio and Weasel may find a permanent bar to maintaining a trademark infringement claim in respect of their music brand because trademark protection is only accorded upon registration. The estate of the late African Raggae Maestro, Lucky Phillip Dube has not confronted this problem because the artist used his real names on stage.
It would be a pity if the music of such a great talent like Mowzey Radio stops with his death. Unfortunately this will likely happen if the music industry learns nothing from his death and continues to pride itself in misinformation and ignorance.
Whats your take on this?
*The author is the Managing Partner of M/s Muwema & Co. Advocates and Director Legal & Corporate Affairs at the Anti-Counterfeit Network Africa.