Telecoms underpay for content, say musicians

Musicians and content developers in Africa have accused mobile service providers of taking the lion’s share – between 70 and 80 percent – of the revenues generated from ringtones and mobile apps.

They have attacked the scheme set up by mobile operators and lack of proper entertainment policies by regulatory bodies, saying it is poorly structured and artistes end up with little or no money.

“The contracts with these mobile operators are handled by Premium-Rate Services Providers (PRSPs), who divide with artistes what is left of 85 percent made from the sales or downloads of our content.” Frasha, a Kenyan musician said.

According to Frasha, mobile operators have capitalised on the disunity of artistes who cannot come to an agreement on a universal pricing for music content.

“Mobile operators have assumed ‘full control’ of these services where their ideology is that they do most of the marketing and own access to the customers, as music is not taken seriously in Kenya and most people do not know it is intellectual property,” he said.

Terms for the deals for Value Added Services (VAS) by mobile operators vary, however they are significantly less favourable for African artistes. In most cases where PRSPs are involved, a fifty-fifty split of the 20 to 30 percent revenue takes place.

Entertainment experts have argued that a model like Apple’s iTunes should be adopted, where the operator keeps 30 percent as the artistes and their labels keep the rest.

A number of artistes have resorted to selling their music online, including uploading content on Soundcloud.com or Reverbnation.com, and recently www.mdundo.com, where downloads are restricted to payments.

“Mobile service providers generate tons of revenue from these VASs, while artiste returns from the same are pathetic. It is of concern that our artistes are given their right share,” said Samuel Majani, CEO of Kenya top e-magazine Ghafla’s!

The Music Copyright Society of Kenya is currently in the process of changing tariffs in favour of artistes. The artists have concluded that it will gain them more income, but the problem will remain the same since mobile operators have the upper hand in dictating the structure of payments.

In Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, providers like Airtel and Safaricom have run services such as “Skiza Tunes”, “Wazup”, “SMS Sokoni” and “iDJ”..

Larger companies have a monopoly on offering payment systems and larger operators such as Safaricom are in a dominant position — more than two-thirds of Kenya’s mobile users are on the Safaricom network.

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