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In the groove: Copyright infringement among Zim artistes

Plagiarism is a bit of a taboo subject within the music industry. Some say it is unavoidable since there are only so many notes on a piano and chord shapes on a guitar.

In December, 2013, I was one of the music category adjudicators of the Nama Awards at the National Arts Council offices. Jah Prayzah had presented us with his Tsviriyo album which he had released in July of the same year, for consideration. One of the adjudicators suddenly said to us: “Wait a minute, is this not the same album the artiste has been accused of stealing a song? I read somewhere about this accusation.” We listened to the song in question titled Mwanasikana for a while which began with: Sisi Makachena.Zvandirovesa Nehana, etc. However, we did not have enough information at the time and I asked the panellists to put that album aside until we had more information. We later found out that the song was in fact a composition of Ghanaian musician, Emmanuel Samini’s 2007 hit song titled Samini.

Musician Jah Prayzah later admitted that he copied the beat of his song Mwanasikana which he added to the album Tsviriyo.

We take a look at these big name artistes whose names have been dragged through the dirt after they were accused of stealing music.

Plagiarism is a bit of a taboo subject within the music industry. Some say it is unavoidable since there are only so many notes on a piano and chord shapes on a guitar.

But others will swear blind that using a riff, melody, or tone of another artist’s song is stealing, ripping, robbing and thieving and is unequivocally wrong.

 A few years before the Jah Prayzah saga, Nama, also grappled with copyright issues between Alick Macheso and Malawian musician, Lucias Banda.

Sungura ace Alick Macheso was also accused of stealing Mundikumbuke from a similarly titled song by Malawian Lucias Banda. Ironically, Macheso has also attacked fellow Zimbabwean musicians like Somandla Ndebele, Gift Amuli and Roderick Chomudhara of copying his beats. The sungura star even composed the song Murondatsimba in which he attacked copycats.

It is not only the top-ranking artistes like Jah Prayzah and Alick Macheso who have been accused of stealing other people’s works. In Zimbabwe many of the smaller artistes look at ways of climbing up the ladder by ‘thieving’ other artistes’ songs.

There has also been controversy surrounding the popular Zimbabwean musician, Jah Signal, recently over allegations of copyright infringement regarding some of the songs he has been performing.

 Charles and Olivia Charamba, Zimbabwe’s top gospel artistes issued a statement on the plagiarising of their music by Jah Signal who is accused of stealing Shinga Muroora and Tengai Mafuta, the latter being a rendition of their 2001 release Kana Vanhu Vangu.

In response to this, the Charamba family issued a statement, expressing their disappointment over the situation. They stated that they have not given Jah Signal permission to perform any of their music and that this type of infringement is unacceptable. According to the Charambas:  “We got to know about the song when it was sent through WhatsApp by his manager who was asking for our permission. After listening to the song, we were so concerned about the changing of original lyrics into romantic words.

We declined the proposal through text as well. We mentioned that the changing of meaning brought to the song was not good for a song known to be gospel. We found it blasphemous and a mockery. In no time the song was released. There was a very clear infringement of copyright laws.

 We were naturally not pleased but chose not to raise issue with this. We accepted the reality and moved on. We did not even wish to get any payment for this. This remains our position to date, we do not want any share of royalties or damages. We also communicated to Zimura that we were not interested with sharing monies with the artist. Furthermore, we have no desire to sue Jah Signal, he’s our son, just like many other young artistes.”

Critics say these and other Zimbabwean artistes especially Zimdancehall chanters should notcomplain of piracy because they sample other musicians’ work. Winky D allegedly sampled Unfaithful by Vybz Kartel in his song, Musarove Bigman.

In a radio interview in 2003, Thomas Mapfumo claimed that he composed Rova Ngoma Mutavara which was later performed by Oliver Tuku Mtukudzi. There has been debate with some arguing that it’s a folk song whilst others say it’s Mukanya’s.

Critics also say Suluman Chimbetu’s ‘Kata’ is a Shona translation of Kenyan based Congolese outfit Les Wenyika’s ‘Kajituliza Kasuku’ and ‘Kata kata’ just like

Macheso’s Mundikumbuke is allegedly a version of a song of the same title.

 What is copyright?

It has been said that there is ‘no property more peculiarly a man’s own than that which is produced by the labour of his mind’. Conversely, the intellectual property created by nationals of a country forms the most important part of its national identity. It is thus imperative both from an individual and a national standpoint that the production and dissemination of this intellectual property be protected.

Copyright is the exclusive right given by law for a certain period of time, to a composer, author or artist (author) to control the use of the works of his mind. The author of an original musical, literary, dramatic or artistic work is entitled to protection against the unauthorised use of his work as well as a share of any earnings from its use. The economic rewards that copyright assures the author provide a stimulus to creativity form which all society benefits.

The law of copyright is governed in Zimbabwe by the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act.

Exception to the above is made if a work is performed, copied, reproduced or adapted for:

  1. a) research or private study;
  2. b) personal and private use;
  3. c) criticism or review if sufficient acknowledgment is made;
  4. d) reporting current events in a newspaper, magazine, broadcast, TV programme or movie;
  5. e) reproduced and/or performed for judicial proceedings; and
  6. f) the performance or broadcast of a reasonable extract if sufficient acknowledgment is made.

Provision is made in the Act for damages in the event of infringement and also for criminal penalties.

Copyright subsists in a work for the lifetime of an author and for fifty years after his death.

If it is more than one author, then copyright subsists after the death of the remaining composer. After this period of time, the work falls within the public domain and is no longer protected.

Zimbabwean musicians and producers have been treating song beats from other countries like Jamaican riddims where a coterie of singers and chanters are jammed up on a single project. When my Jamaican friend, King Sounds listened to some Zimdancehall tunes I had sampled for him, he simply went."Chaa Man, dem too tief man! Dem tief our beat!” He did not give any credit to the producers who just sampled the Jamaican riddims and put voice overs to the riddim.These producers are taking credit for works that do not belong to them. Someone once said being lazy is being smart but it does not apply to so-called hitmakers…or creatives alike when they copy and paste other people’s work.

Nigeria is a West African country that prides itself in reinventing Afrobeat rebranding it to Naija Music. Zimbabweans seeing where the winds are blowing have followed the Naija trend  by stealing some beats from the West African country.

This issue of copyright infringement is not new. Even in the early 60’s there were cases of musicians stealing songs from each other.

Pata Pata is a song that was written by Dorothy ‘Aunt Dot’ Masuka and was performed and popularized by Miriam Makeba, a South African. Augustine Musarurwa’s S’kokiaan was popularised by South Africa’s Hugh Masekela, popularly known as ‘Bra Hugh’ and was performed by American blues exponent Louis Armstrong.

Recently, there was a spate of incidents involving Zimbabwean musicians pulling each other’s music from YouTube platforms.

After Michael Magz’s departure from Holy Ten’s Samanyanga stable, the latter pulled down a song featuring Michael Magz; Ke Nako music, a defunct stable pulled Winky D’s songs which it recorded with the Zimdancehall chanter, to mention a few.  According to  Witness Roya, a postdoctoral fellow at Mangosuthu University of Technology in South Africa, who is also undertaking a study on copyright issues, “Some people are of the view that copyright claims are being used to settle scores.” 

Copyright is the exclusive right of the composer and should not be infringed upon.

In my opinion, it is the duty of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe to organise workshops on how copyright works.


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