In its 2003 annual report, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) ranked Kenya high among nations on the global watch list for unbridled infringement of music copyright legislation.
The copyrights of an estimated over 85% of audio CDs and music videos sold mainly in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and major urban towns, were until about five years ago still reportedly unprotected.
But whereas the sale of pirated sound recordings remains commonplace countrywide, music retailers are now increasingly reluctant to stock CDs or VCDs not affixed with the bonafide barcode stickers.
The introduction of Kenya Copyright Board authentication barcode stickers a few years ago, was meant to distinguish genuine audio CDs and music VCDs from counterfeit copies which flood the local market.
In 2008, a lobby group of local musicians had proposed Kenya Revenue Authority introduces authentication devices or stickers on recorded original CDs and VCDs – similar to those on beverages or cigarettes.
But the suggestion floundered thereafter on legal technicalities, after the Authority insisted it was only mandated to deal with specific taxes such as VAT, customs duty and import tax.
For decades, most local and foreign music makers have been under siege from the grip of an intricate web of well-heeled, shadowy cartels, which mint millions of shillings annually from sale of pirated products.
The lack of a clearly defined focus, commitment and goodwill from previous governments –contributed extensively to deterioration in management structures meant to streamline the lucrative music sector.
It is alleged varied pirate cartels and camps pursuing different vested interests work in cahoots with law enforcers, supposedly taking advantage of a seemingly toothless Kenya Copyright Board.
Ideally, pirates hardly pay any taxes by virtue of the counterfeit dealers illegal ‘trade’ not being duly registered under the Kenya Bureau of Standards and KRA’s Value Added Tax (VAT) departments.
Yet, the illicit copying or duplicating process is done ‘while you wait’ without imposition of VAT.
Such loopholes are traced back to previous governments’ failure to realize the potential inherent in a fully fledged music industry.
David Amunga, one of the handful surviving pioneer artistes from the 1960s era concurs.
“Most of those involved in numerous relevant agencies or government departments did not acknowledge need to enshrine and implement proper legislations to nurture the sector as an income generating venture,” asserts the veteran musician.
Less than a decade ago, the local music industry’s worth was pegged at not less than Ksh. 10 billion generated annually – an estimate widely attributed to unverified projections.
This would indicate that on average, the exchequer loses out on billions of shillings per year in unpaid taxes owing to largely ineffective legislative laws on copyright.
The spiraling levels of the vice have driven live studio recording artistes and international music production labels previously based locally, out of business.
But the introduction of the Kenya Copyright Board barcode stickers is likely to inject a fresh thrust in concerted efforts to stem the tide of piracy.
The barcode is essentially aimed at guiding music buyers and consumers to identify between original and counterfeit music.
Availability of pirated copies which have for years flooded the local market is attributed to the illegal dealers’ extensive yet unofficial distribution networks.