The least obvious effects of Piracy on the Local Rock Scene


by Daniel Kobimbo

So let’s talk piracy. For a long time the monster that we’ve been battling to keep at bay has been the copyright infringement of Kenyan Music. Although this still remains an issue it possess a lesser threat than before. Having taken great pains to safeguard local content, digitisation and wider access to the internet presents difficulties of a different nature. While we safeguard local content the question that begs for an answer is: who will police illicit trade and unauthorised downloads of foreign rock music? And how does that affect the local market?

There are about 50,000 Kenyan rock fans on Facebook. Rock music has become a staple for them. All rock fans here in Kenya, I would hazard to say, are nourished by illimitable reserves of foreign rock content. Only a handful of them are even aware that there is a nascent local scene. And even fewer among them are properly appraised of its content. Most still hold the view that the music that comes from the local scene is poorly produced. And they are probably right because their ears have sampled better. Unlike their foreign counterparts, they don’t have to spend a dime on iTunes to buy music. Therefore the situation that presents itself is that the scene continues to mark time. Although radio stations like X FM and Capital FM have given local rock content airplay, by and large the greater portion of what is played is foreign rock music.

Steps are being taken to tip the balances in favour of the local guy. The government seeks to statutorily increase the local content that plays on radio and TV. That might aid the situation in some way. But that nevertheless still falls short of the mark. In essence we have naïvely under-estimated the power of the internet and digital TV. Those with a subscription to digital pay TV have access to TV channels like Kerrang!That will continually supply the demand for foreign rock content.

So the real solution lies elsewhere i.e. in the legal regime and enforcement mechanisms.

To get a better grasp of the dynamics at play you have to consider how copyright law works. When music is produced you register your product with the local copyright agencies in your country. If you are an international band like say System of a Down you can also register your copyright in countries where you want your copyright protected as long as those countries have the machinery for registration and protection. Generally the country of your origin is the one best suited to protect you and you will incur less costs in bringing suits against infringers.

Even where you succeed in registering your copyright abroad your product may not be safe. Foreign government agencies aren’t obligated to enforce the intellectual property rights of say United States copyright owners. In legal circles, experts refer to this phenomenon as the territoriality of Intellectual property. For the un-initiated the sum of things is this. You see, unless there is some sort of deal between the government of Kenya and the United States/The United Kingdom, The Communications Authority & the Kenya Copyright board being the agencies involved in copyright enforcement won’t have a reason to see that your torrent download skills are run aground. That costs money and unless there is something for the government to gain (as always is the motivation for these kinds of things) and there is a change in policy then the masses like ticks will continue to consume (albeit clandestinely) the products of foreign rock bands. No one will be driven to buy local music no matter how good it is. And without consumption of the crumbs that are at the moment being produced; then the scene will wither and die. As such without a budding rock scene and with foreign bands not needing to promote their brand, then you can also kiss all the hopes of hosting an international band for a concert goodbye.

And supposing that we are true offspring of that musical beast that refuses to die; then when the day comes that the foreign flood gates are closed and we are deprived to the point of starvation then we will look within our ranks and appreciate that which our country men have managed to conjure. And with that the beast will live on.

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