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Art Forum Discusses the need to address Copyright issues in Ugandan Arts and Entertainment Industry

The US Mission Uganda, in partnership with Breakdance Project Uganda, this Thursday hosted an Art Forum on Copyright and How To Earn From Your Art at The Square. This was one of many activities organised under the Arts Envoy 2018 program. Dorothy Ngarombi from US Mission Uganda in her welcoming remarks said: ”we have hope that this program could take an annual form.”  The Forum featured presentations and a panel discussion including Ugandan artist/lawyer Sylver Kyagulanyi, the Uganda Performing Rights Society (UPRS), and Sincerity, a member of the Rhyme Like A Girl collective who make up the envoy of American artists currently holding workshops, concerts and studio collaborations in Uganda.

This year’s Art Forum was intended to address some of the biggest copyright challenges that artists and creatives in general tend to face when it comes to commercializing their creations, especially in today’s contemporary technological environment where people easily access information and share creative works. Claiming originality, ownership and compensation for creative content has left many artists feeling challenged and seeking knowledge on the law and best practices that could help them succeed in the arts business. Tips were shared with the audience on how to get acquainted with Uganda’s Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act and how to put it to use.

Richard Kawesa, who has been at the forefront of the entertainment industry in Uganda as a singer, composer and copyright activist for a long time, gifted the audience with free copies of his book entitled “How to Become a Music Star: A Guide By Kawesa Richard” – together with its publishers, Ugandan studio and record label Swangz Avenue – with a promise of more copies coming for Arts Envoy workshop attendees and Breakdance Project Uganda members. He went on to emphasize the importance of contracts and brand building to help artists build leadership and long lasting legacies in their particular artistic domains.

Other members of the panel like Abramz Tekya (founder of Breakdance Project Uganda), Dick Matovu (Compliance Manager, Uganda Performing Rights Society – UPRS) and Silver Kyagulanyi (artist, lawyer, and Ugandan copyright specialist) discussed the importance of originality: being able to prove that the creative work is original and can therefore be traced back to rightful ownership by the creator.

Kyagulanyi explained that the copyright law in Uganda is clear, and Ugandans just need to put it to use. Artists are able to protect their copyright until 50 years after their death, at which point it their song or art piece, etc. becomes public. Kyagulanyi noted that artists can register their copyright at the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) by submitting audio, visual, lyrics, etc. at a cost of 50,000 UGX. For those who cannot afford this, he recommended an alternative approach termed “poor man’s copyright,” which is the practice of emailing yourself all your creative works when they are first created so this can serve as proof in court. He advised artists to stand up for their copyright by taking those who violate it to court, either civil courts to seek monetary damages or criminal courts to enforce punishment for those who steal copyright.

“If it is worth copying, then it is worth protecting” – Silver Kyagulanyi

Dick Matovu, representing the Uganda Performing Rights Society (UPRS), which is tasked with collecting royalties for Ugandan artists, advised artists to play their part by educating themselves of the legal framework, registering their copyrights with Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), drafting contracts and signing up with UPRS.  He explained that many different people in the creative process can claim copyright, from the lyrics writer to the audio producer, the instrumentalist, singer and performer, as well as other forms of art like writing and design, and he warned that contracts must be in line with the law to be upheld.

Sincerity from USA’s Rhyme Like a Girl collective talked about the competitiveness of the industry in her residence of New York and urged artists to remain mindful of their own interests as they promote their talent. She also talked about the other workshops and studio collaborations ongoing between Rhyme Like A Girl and Ugandan artists, saying that she and the American collective are enjoying their time in Uganda and learning a lot from their Ugandan peers, as much as they are also passing on their knowledge and skills.

“As an artist, we often want to do a lot of things for free out of passion, and then you’re like: oh snap! I have bills to pay!” – Sincerity, Rhyme Like A Girl

The panel delved deeper into the question of How To Earn From Your Art with Abramz Tekya (Breakdance Project Uganda), Dick Matovu, Richard Kawesa, Sincerity and Silver Kyagulanyi. The moderator for the event was investigative journalist Qatahar Raymond Mujuni. Many Ugandans in the creative industry had their questions answered and walked away with a copy of Richard’s book.

Those who attended the forum were left with hope and useful knowledge, as many expressed in their gratitude and requested that such events should be organised more often and more knowledge shared with artists who do not understand the law. Richard Kawesa’s book and other reading materials on this issue can be found at the US Mission Uganda offices or through Breakdance Project Uganda.

The final Arts Envoy event is scheduled for Saturday August 11th. The Kampala HipHop Explosive Concert happening at 7pm at YMCA in Wandegeya will be free entry and open to all! Performers will include USA’s Rhyme Like a Girl (Toni Blackman, Atlas and Sincerity), The Mith, Lady Slyke & DJ Nesta, Sylvester & Abramz, Ruyonga, St.Nellysade, Lyrical G, Pryce Teeba, Sandra Nankoma, T-Bro, Qrea-us, Jora MC, Spotlite Crew & DJ Issa, and there will be live graffitti, B-Boys & B-Girls, Beatboxers and Poppers.

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