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Musicians at war with Zimura, ZBC?

There are many reasons why wars start among nations. Way back in 1976, Bob Marley came up with a philosophy on how races and nations end up fighting each other when he sang:

by Fred Zindi

Until the philosophy which holds one race superior

And another

Inferior

Is finally

And permanently

Discredited

And abandoned

Everywhere is war

Me say war.

That until there no longer

First-class and second-class citizens of any nation

Until the colour of a man’s skin

Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war.

There is a different war currently going on between the Zimbabwe Musicians’ Union (Zimu), Trade Union for the Music Arts Industry (Tumai) and Creative Arts Union (CAU) on one side and the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (Zimura) and national broadcaster ZBC on the other side. It’s a war about royalties. Music composers in this country throng Zimura offices as is usually the case on June 1 of each year to receive royalties due from airplay of their songs. Radio stations, television, supermarkets and other users of music pay these royalties through Zimura, which in turn distributes them to its members. In the past there was war between Zimura and ZBC, but this year, the tide seems to have turned as musicians are now angry with both Zimura and ZBC for not giving them their proper dues.

In March, 1988 ZBC and Zimura were locked up in a legal battle involving the royalties which the broadcaster was supposed to pay composers for the use of their music on both radio and television. After a High Court order, ZBC had threatened to stop playing all locally-made music, but they did not know that Zimura was affiliated to other international composers’ organisations such as Performing Rights Society (PRS), Association of Independent Radio Contractors, British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, Music Publishers’ Association, British Phonographic Industry, World Intellectual Property Organisation, Confederation of International Songwriters, Authors and Composers, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and the British Music Incorporated (BMI).

The importance of being affiliated to these international organisations cannot be over-emphasised for local musicians. Let’s say BBC Radio 1 in London plays a song composed by Winky D or Oliver Mtukudzi, BBC, will pay PRS for such airplay which in turn collects on behalf of Zimura. Similarly, when ZBC plays an Elton John, Lady Gaga, Adelle or Rod Stewart song on their radio stations, Zimura collects on behalf of PRS, the organisation which will distribute to the artistes concerned. This reciprocal move is useful to both countries. If judgement had been passed ordering ZBC to stop playing all music under Zimura’s wing, this would have meant stopping playing all music except that which is in the public domain. Music only becomes public domain 50 years after the death of the composer. ZBC would, therefore, have been allowed to play music from the likes of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky who died way back in the 19th century, if such stocks do exist in their library. That would be the only music which would be played on their stations and sooner or later, the public would protest and stop paying their listeners’ licence fees. However, the dispute between ZBC and Zimura was later solved amicably with ZBC agreeing to pay a percentage of its advertising revenue towards both local and international music composers.

This year, it looks like history has repeated itself as ZBC finds itself in the same position. Fortunately, it seems the situation between Zimura and ZBC has also been resolved amicably as the broadcaster has announced that they will pay Zimura $5 000 every week until their debt of close to $600 000 has been paid off. Now Zimura is finding it difficult to pay significant amounts to its members as they have to deduct a percentage of the money received towards administration costs. This is where the war with musicians begins.

Zimu chairperson Edith We Utonga says the musicians are not happy with the current state of affairs at Zimura where she says 40% of the money being collected from different music users is going on administrative expenses, while the owners of that intellectual property end up with as little as $2,50 after a year. She, together with other organisations such as CAU and Tumai, have come together to fight it out with both ZBC and Zimura whom they accuse of unreasonably benefiting from the sweat of fellow musicians.

On July 11, the three organisations came up with what they called the Harare Declaration in which the unions’ representatives stated that:

lMusicians have the right to the full recognition of their professional activity as any other workers;

lZimura has failed its members on royalty collection and musicians are disgruntled, therefore a march to the parent Ministry of Arts, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Information is in order;

lPrior to the march, an email shall be written to the ministries, and all general managers at radio stations to let them know about the proposed new rates per play as well as the failure by ZBC to pay the royalties owed;

lA lawyer will help the unions to follow procedure on the paperwork required (Gwinyai Mharapara);

lThe rate per play if distribution is done twice a year shall be $2,50;

lIf distribution is once yearly, then the rate per play shall be $5;

lIn a bid to protect local artistes and their industry, artistes are requesting the enforcement of the Local Content Policy and that it be raised from the previous 75% to 90%;

lLobby for government to expedite the digitalisation process at ZBC to enable a digital login of all music played;

lLobby for enforcement of the Intellectual Property Policy; and
lLobby for a government seal that enables government to collect some tax when music products like CDs are sold.

For artistes such as Cliff Richard or Elton John, Zimura are supposed to collect royalties on their behalf and send the money to them through PRS.

Apart from ZBC, Zimura also collects royalties from night clubs, supermarkets and all those who use music for public consumption such as the so-called independent radio stations like Star FM and ZiFM. However, ZBC has the sole responsibility to collect listeners’ licence fees from the public as evidenced by the licence inspectors who flood many cities to collect cash from motorists.

No nation can survive without music and making good music requires a lot of effort on the part of its composers. The least organisations such as ZBC, Zimura and supermarkets can do is to support those efforts in order to allow those musicians to survive.

lFeedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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