Helping African artists manage their rights globally

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The contribution made by African musicians and their music throughout history is unquestionable. The continent’s musical landscape is rich and contributes not just entertainment value but also a way of sharing tradition and culture. Unfortunately, even today, only a few African artists have been able to make money from the popularity of their music, and most of them struggle to make a living or to get the recognition they deserve. Inefficient rights management systems, difficulties in cross-border licensing and payment, and other challenges, mean that artists frequently don’t earn as much money as they should from their work.

In order to address some of these challenges, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), has undertaken a number of initiatives intended to benefit musicians in Africa. Among the initiatives, is a collaboration between WIPO and Google focused on building software that will make it easier, faster, and simpler for musicians and composers in 11 West African countries to get paid for the use of their music worldwide – and help increase their music’s visibility internationally at the same time.

When a broadcaster plays a song on the radio, a movie studio includes that song on a film soundtrack, or a music service streams it to consumers, they need to know who owns the rights to that song and obtain a license. One of the places they might consult to figure out who owns the rights is a collecting society–an organization dedicated to managing rights for composers, musicians and performers. You might need to contact a music publisher, or a record company, or the artists directly. Information on rights can be hard to find, impeding revenue opportunities for artists.

The 11 countries in question — Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo — sought a solution for this problem, and asked WIPO to come up with a solution that would allow information on their music to be more widely shared. With Google as its pro bono technology partner, WIPO will improve its existing rights-management software to do just that.

The aim is to make it easier and more efficient for artists to get paid for their work. Performers, composers, record labels and music publishers will be able to register their music and have that information automatically shared and globally accessible. Current and potential licensees will be able to work out who owns the rights to a work more efficiently, and information about how these licensees are using these works will be immediately available to all these countries’ collection societies, replacing what is often now a manual process of updating various databases.

By working with rights holders and public institutions like WIPO, Google aims to contribute open technology solutions, making it easier for new online services to emerge and for consumers to discover and access creative works. In the case of music in developing countries, this need is especially important: African artists can now reach a global audience and get paid, but only if the rights management information is readily available. This collaboration will considerably help make this happen and we are proud to be helping WIPO in furthering the dissemination of African culture and helping African artists reach listeners around the world.

You can learn more about this project at http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/

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