R Kelly and Kenyan copyright law

One thing I never thought I would find myself doing in Kenya was attending a workshop on intellectual property law with a group of aspiring musicians and artists…but that is the joy of VSO. You never know what’s coming next!

I’d been invited by Kibera YMCA to attend a workshop on Sunday, and knowing how hard the Branch Manager works I wanted to support him even though I wasn’t quite so keen on giving up my weekend. When I turned up the hall was packed with participants – a good sign!

The session was being run by an American NGO called Peacetones. Peacetones  approaches the topic of economic empowerment with the belief that being an artist can allow you to earn a living – but you really better know the law and your rights and responsibilities if you’re going to have a chance to succeed financially in the industry. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical however that a day of talking about copyright law was going to hold the group’s attention…

But how wrong I was! As the two pro-bono lawyers, fresh off the plane from LA and clearly surprised at the setting they found themselves in, introduced the group to concepts of licensing, CMOs (Collective Management Organisations), and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works 1886, something happened. 

Questions started being asked. And lots of them.

“If I take a sample from an R Kelly song and use it in my song, am I doing something illegal?”

“If I am working with a producer and they change the style of my song from rap to reggae, are they doing something wrong?”

“If I use R Kelly’s name in my song, am I doing something wrong?”

Aside from a surprising preponderance with R Kelly, these musicians cared deeply about the topic, saw it’s relevance to their work and wanted to learn as much as possible from the legal eagles. It was brilliant and frequently amusing to observe.

To find out more about Peacetones visit: http://www.peacetones.org

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