Ugandan Members of Parliament (MPs) who serve on the Committee of Information, Communication Technology, and National Guidance have cautioned that consumers could face higher costs if a tax on common consumer gadgets, recommended by musicians, is implemented.
The proposal for this levy originates from the Uganda Musicians Association (UMA) and the National Culture Forum (NCF), both of which are advocating for adjustments to the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act of 2006.
Sulaiman Kamulegeya, a director at UMA, has stated that musicians argue that a universal levy on gadgets is necessary, as everyone with a smartphone or a storage device is likely to use, store, or share local content through downloads or popular streaming services such as YouTube or Spotify.
Charles Batambuze, the vice-chairman of NCF, has additionally called for regulations to ensure equitable revenue sharing from caller ringback tunes. He proposed that artists or creatives should receive at least 60 percent of the revenue generated by the law.
The imported gadgets suggested for taxation in support of musicians and creatives include smartphones, flash disks, hard drives, memory cards, blank CDs, DVDs, tablets, printers, scanners, smartwatches, CD duplicators, jukeboxes, and karaoke machines.
Geoffrey Ekongot, the programs director at the musicians’ secretariat, suggested that the government could impose a smaller percentage that would not significantly impact gadget prices.
The musicians argue that consumers no longer buy music tapes or CDs in stores and instead store their music on phones and portable devices. They believe that such platforms do not adequately help musicians earn a living.
The proposed levy is justified based on what musicians describe as widespread exploitation in the creative industry. They believe it will also provide compensation to authors of books, music, film, and visual arts, using recordable media for recording, storing, playing, and distributing the content.
The musicians suggest that domestic manufacturers or importers of taxable devices and media should bear the responsibility of paying the levy. They also propose that the Uganda Revenue Authority should collect the levy for locally made devices upon leaving the manufacturing premises, and for imported devices upon importation. They further recommend establishing a copyright fund to manage the collected funds and distribute them to different categories of rights holders.
The discussions in the parliamentary committee stem from a petition presented by National Youth MP Phiona Nyamutoro on behalf of the Uganda National Musicians Federation.
Committee Chair and Budiope East MP Moses Magogo emphasized the significance of the creative industry, noting its employment opportunities for youth. He suggested that government regulation of the industry is crucial.
During the debate, some MPs raised concerns about the musicians’ tendency to sign contracts with telecom companies they later accuse of exploitation. They questioned whether the musicians had formally reported copyright infringement.
In response, the musicians cited existing court cases related to copyright issues and expressed their concerns about profits being sent abroad rather than supporting local artists.
Some MPs voiced concerns about the potential impact of the levy on gadget prices, suggesting that it could reduce the number of purchases and content downloads.
Despite these concerns, musician Ragga Dee argued that levying gadgets that use their content is a necessary measure to support creatives, even if it leads to higher gadget prices.