By Sylver Kyagulanyi
In the year 1999, at the dawn of my music career, I was working with Diamonds Production, a music band which was then owned by Kato Lubwama, the current Member of Parliament for Rubaga South. We used to gig all-over the country, performing from village to village, while travelling in a mini – bus, a Coaster – DCM.
One fateful day, while travelling through the villages of Gomba, in a haste to get to our next destination, we ran over a pig (hereafter referred to as a goat for purposes of this story). Our driver, commonly referred to as Muudu, our preferred short-name for Mohammed, quickly stopped our prized bus and slowly reversed to the scene, after all, it wasn’t a big matter, it was just a goat.
The villagers had quickly gathered around and the goat owner was already at the accident scene, an impoverished woman in her early thirties, covered in a brownish tattered ‘gomesi’ or whatever was left of it; her feet marred with mud from the obvious trip to the garden, wearing a beaten face marked by anguish and despair. Muudu slowly approached her and consoled her saying; “please forgive me, it was an accident. I am going to buy for you another goat… please don’t cry, it’s just a goat!”
The woman was inconsolable. She went on to lament throwing her arms in the air; “you have killed me…this goat was my mother…..my father… what will my children eat… how will they go to school… all my dreams are shattered… my life is over, that goat is all I had.”
Muudu was obviously confused because he felt that the woman was blowing the goat accident issue out of context to attract more attention and sympathy from the villagers and passersby and he became completely frustrated. The villagers demanded for justice but there was nothing Muudu could do apart from giving the woman money to buy another goat. Whether justice was served is a question for another day and for now it remains a moot point.
I have no way of telling whether the woman managed to get another goat as her sole income provider. Nonetheless, my reflections on that experience connects me to the conduct of the government of Uganda towards the creative industry regarding the recently enacted UCC regulations that are fashioned to kill the industry.
The Government thinks that the members of the creative industry are overreacting over the new regulations under the ICT Ministry (Reference is made to my article “Uganda’s Creative Industry Under Siege Again”, published on the 26th of July of 2020). After all, to the Government and its overzealous henchmen, it is just a ‘goat’ they are dealing with, but to us the members of the creative industry, it’s not just a goat but our livelihood, that ‘goat’ is all we have.
It is not that the creative industry stakeholders are removed from the idea of being regulated like other sectors. The real query is that the hand set by the government to regulate was not precisely built for the job. All it can do, at least judging from the bad ‘Stage Plays and Public Entertainment Rules of 2019 and the UCC (Film…) regulations of 2019’, is destroy the industry in which we have invested our lives, time, energy and money.
Legitimate legislation should be acceptable to the stakeholders, logical to the rational being and necessary in public interest. This would require good understanding of the industry at stake by consulting the stakeholders and hiring sector experts to guide the process. For logical considerations, the hand wielding the power to regulate should follow reason and the spirit of the law, especially the Constitution. It is also important to note that public interest includes respect for private rights and this includes Copyright.
The creative industry is copyright based and ought to be regulated under the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, 2006 (hereinafter referred to as the Copyright Act for easy reference) in the case of Uganda. Copyright is known as a bundle of rights including those known today and those that will be discovered in the future, but generally these are classified as moral and economic rights. The moral rights are rights to attribution and integrity while the economic rights are vast. These include: rights to publish, produce, reproduce, distribute or make available to the public, perform in public, broadcast the work, communicate through any media, commercially rent or sell and all other rights to be known in the future.
These rights are founded in the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, under Article 26 which expressly provides for protection from deprivation of property. In any case if such deprivation is to happen considering public interest, the constitution proposes fair, speedy and adequate compensation. The Constitution, under Article 40, also provides for economic rights including the right for everyone to practice his or her profession and to carry on any lawful occupation, trade or business. The same Constitution gives Parliament powers to make laws for the protection of the said rights as the Constitutional provisions mentioned above.
The Copyright Act became law in 2006 as part of the efforts to bring Uganda up-to speed with International Copyright trends, since it was clear then that the world economy is largely knowledge based. However, the otherwise good Copyright Act, which had been tailored to recognize and help the creative industry to grow, has seen little success. This is because the issue of copyright administration was not properly addressed. It is always plausible for an Act of Parliament to establish its administrative/regulatory body.eg. Uganda Communications Act establishes the Uganda Communications Commission, National Environment Act creates National Environment Authority, to mention but a few.
The Copyright Act is wanting in that regard and that is the genesis of the current challenges in the creative industry. The Act only provides for registration of Copyright (PART VI) and Collecting Societies (PART VII) but leaves out all the other important matters concerning the several rights it grants. Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) which is the national entity for copyright is only expressly mandated to handle Copyright registration (which is of little value by the way) and regulate collecting societies. The Bureau, whose foundation and spirit is registration, cannot be blamed for looking the other way when other Ministries, Departments or Agencies (MDAs) are scrambling to smuggle the industry under their docket.
This Scramble started long time ago but I will mention a few incidents in this article for which I qualify as a witness: in 2010, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) proposed regulations which the industry out rightly rejected; in 2019, the same ministry brought back the unacceptable regulations with changes and apart from the fact that they were worse, the Statute from which they were being drawn did not consider MGLSD as a line Ministry but the Ministry of Local Government for theatre licenses and the Ministry of Information for stage play permits (Refer to my article “Performing Arts need boost, not restriction” published in the Monitor on the 4th of February 2019). The MGLSD had no choice but to recuse herself and abandon the regulations.
Meanwhile, in a clandestine manner that only reeks of ill-motive, the ICT ministry through UCC got hold of the indecent regulation proposals and passed them with no regard to right process including no consultations with stakeholders and here we are! All these ad hoc arrangements to govern our copyright-based businesses are happening while the line ministry for copyright which is the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs seems unbothered.
The cause of this scramble is the fact that the industry is multi-faced yet in the eyes of the MGLSD, all we do as the creatives is culture whereas in the eyes of UCC, all we do is broadcast. All these perceptions are wrong. GOD Forbid, the Ministry of Finance through Uganda Revenue Authority starts seeing all creative works and commodities as revenue collection.
My free advise (free for now) is that the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, which is the line Ministry for copyright and related rights, should spearhead an amendment to the Copyright Act to provide for a comprehensive copyright authority clothed with the mandate to promote and regulate the affairs of the creative industry. This statutory body should also play a pivotal role for all government sectors that have a stake in the large industry. Such copyright administrative body, that springs from the parent law which recognizes copyright and neighbouring rights, is the solution.
The author is a musician, lawyer and the Executive Director of the Copyright Institute of Uganda.