Yesterday I happened to speak with some representatives from the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) at an event promoting local music in Kenya. I was shocked to learn that, in Kenya, music works are granted copyright protection for 50 years after the death of the composer. I’m neither a musician nor a lawyer (so maybe I don’t “get it”), but it certainly seems like there is something wrong with that legislation.
For example, let’s say I’m twenty-five years old and I publish a song in the year 1900. If I die in 1960, at the age of eighty five, my copyright would have just expired this year (2010). Exactly whose interests is the copyright protecting fifty years after my death? Keep in mind, the song would have been published 110 years ago! Do you know what people were doing in Kenya ~100 years ago?
Colonial bastard jumping a tamed zebra in East Africa sometime between 1890 and 1923…
Doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous that a song published during a time when people jumped zebras for fun would still be under copyright now, in a more “civilized” era? There’s no doubt Kenyan musicians are creative, talented, and should be compensated for their work, but I can’t think of a reason why someone else should be compensated for that work fifty years after the original composer dies.
For an exhilarating read, head over to Wikipedia and check out copyright law in the United States, specifically the duration of copyrights (hint: it’s way, way, worse than Kenya’s, giving up to 120 years from initial publication!).