In a twist that has left both music enthusiasts and telecommunication aficionados raising their eyebrows, Airtel Uganda has found itself singing a rather off-key tune. The company, which often connects people through calls, inadvertently connected with legal trouble, resulting in a fine of approximately Shs700 million. It seems Airtel’s attempt to introduce a musical flair into their service has hit a sour note.
The melodramatic saga began when Jamaican singer Garfield Spence, famously known as Konshens, alleged that Airtel Uganda and software content company OnMobile Global swiped eight of his songs without permission. These pilfered tunes were then repurposed as “caller tunes” for Airtel subscribers, all while Konshens remained in the dark about this musical makeover.
In a court ruling that probably didn’t hit any high notes of celebration at Airtel’s headquarters, Commercial Court Judge Patricia Mutesi chimed in. She ruled that Airtel’s use of Konshens’ catchy creations as caller tunes was a blatant infringement of his copyright. Ouch, that’s a discordant legal chord right there.
The judge didn’t stop there. She also noted that not only did Airtel and OnMobile Global gleefully use the songs, but they also danced their way around any financial obligations to the artist. In other words, they enjoyed the rhythm of revenue without sharing the spotlight with its rightful owner. Unjust enrichment, they call it – a less melodic term for what’s essentially singing someone else’s song without paying royalties.
As if to add some spicy seasoning to this legal stew, Justice Mutesi ordered Airtel to cough up Shs20 million, while OnMobile Global was handed the bill for Shs30 million in exemplary damages. That’s a lot of zeros just for trying to hum along to someone else’s tune.
Konshens, who claims Airtel swiped his hits before offering them up for Shs600 a pop, seems to have come out on top in this legal melody. His songs, including classics like “Gyal a Bubble” and “Jah Love Me,” are undoubtedly catchy, but they’re causing Airtel some costly woes.
In the aftermath of this tuneful tiff, Silver Kayondo, a lawyer at Ortus Advocates, chimed in, suggesting that copyright law isn’t exactly a self-enforcing melody. He hinted that artists might want to brush up on their legal prowess to keep their creations from becoming someone else’s karaoke hit. Kayondo even gave a nod to international examples like Canada, Nigeria, and Kenya, where Copyright Royalties Boards regulate royalty rates.
And while the curtain falls on this legal performance, Airtel Uganda remains tight-lipped, choosing not to sing its own version of events by the time this article went to print. Whether they’ll take this lesson to heart and keep their musical ambitions more harmonious remains to be seen.