GHAMRO’s 2022 Royalty Disbursement Leaves Many Rights Owners Struggling, Prompting Calls for Reform

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By Frank Ossei Bonsu

December is around the corner, and musicians will be anxious to know what their work from streaming platforms, concerts, and foreign royalty collection bodies throughout the year has earned them. In 2022, the Ghanaian music industry witnessed a startling and disheartening development as only a fraction of musicians received their deserved royalties from the Ghana Music Rights Organization.

Ghana Music Rights Organization, GHAMRO, is a royalties collection agency within Ghana, that represents the rights of music copyright holders. It was created under section 49 of the Copyright Law, Act 690 of 2005. The agency collects royalties for all rights owners in Ghana.

According to GHAMRO PRO Prince Tsegah, total royalties to be distributed was about 1.2 M GhC (about $200,000).

GHAMRO chair Rex Omar

According to Chairman of the GHAMRO, Rex Owusu Marfo aka Rex Omar, musician Shatta Wale earned over 30,000 GhC in 2021. Celestine Donkor received 11,000 GhC. These figures got many rights owners coming out to question the mechanism used in the distribution. Prominent among them is Ohemaa Mercy who said she received  a miserly 300 GhC as royalties from GHAMRO despite being in the busiiness for the past 16 years. Like her, most artists received next to nothing. Highlife musician Richard Kofi Tuffour aka Nana Tuffour Jnr complained bitterly about his meagre royalties . The artist who in 2021 featured prominently on hits by Okyeame Kwame and Frank Mensah Pozo such as ‘Apem Koraa Metua’ revealed on Ambassador TV:

“I received less than 200 GhC in December 2022 and I was shocked when I received the Money.”

This situation of GHAMRO’s inability to pay musicians their due has plunged numerous artists into financial hardship, raising serious questions about the transparency of the organization’s royalty distribution process. Veteran musician Akosua Adjepong disclosed in an interview on that the late Kwadwo Akwaboah Snr. died with much pain due to GHAMRO’s failure to pay him his due during his illness despite the remarkable catalogue associated with his name.

Membership issues, inadequate collection mechanisms, data management challenges, administrative inefficiencies and piracy and copyright infringement are a few of the reasons musicians are giving for the dismal state of affairs.

A survey of 30 tights owners in Accra shows that there is a growing demand from rights owners and industry stakeholders for urgent reforms within GHAMRO. These reforms encompass several key areas. In response to these challenges and stakeholder demands, the Attorney General and Copyright Office, which oversee GHAMRO’s operations, have taken the significant step of withholding the organization’s license renewal. This action is intended to compel GHAMRO to meet certain industry standards and address the concerns raised by rights owners and stakeholders.

Akosua Adjepong says GHAMRO should be closed down and fixed.

Rex Omar addressed media recently at a press conference agreeing that  GHAMRO needed changes, after which more rights owners can rightfully access the royalties they deserve, contributing to the sustainability and growth of Ghana’s vibrant music industry.

A major reason for the limited distribution of royalties stems from a lack of registered members within GHAMRO. Many musicians, particularly emerging artists and grassroots talents, remain uninformed about the significance and benefits of GHAMRO membership. Without registration, they are automatically excluded from the royalty disbursement.

Omar’s former stablemate in NAKOREX Akosua Adjepong believes GHAMRO should streamline its membership registration process, making it more accessible and user-friendly for rights owners of all backgrounds. Simplifying the process could encourage more artists to join and benefit from royalties. In a Graphic Showbiz report, she disputed GHAMRO’s assertion that it has over 4,000 members, and she raised various other allegations.

Artist and label owner D-Black has cited inadequate collection mechanisms as another serious concern. Royalty collection relies on diverse sources such as broadcasting, public performances, live performances, and digital streaming. GHAMRO has encountered challenges in tracking and collecting royalties from these sources, resulting in a decrease in available funds for distribution. D-Black revealed in an interview on that rights owners receive royalties but often lack detailed statements explaining the sources and calculations behind their payments.

Many musicians believe GHAMRO needs digital transformation. Many say it should invest in technology and data analytics to better track royalties from digital streaming platforms, which have become a significant revenue source for musicians globally. This, they say, would ensure that artists receive their fair share of earnings from the digital music landscape.

In 2020, there were reports of a collaboration attempt between the Norwegian Copyright Development Association (NORCODE) and an Irish company called Heaven11, aimed at helping GHAMRO streamline its operations in documentation, licensing, and royalty distribution. The objective was to boost revenue generation. However, this collaboration never materialized due to GHAMRO CEO citing high costs as a barrier. Additionally, various companies have attempted to assist GHAMRO in digitizing its operations, but these efforts have proved unsuccessful, primarily because of the management’s reluctance to depart from traditional operational methods.

It has also been suggested that partnerships such as collaborations with radio stations, music venues, and event organizers could enhance the collection of royalties from radio airplay and live performances. Clearer partnerships and agreements with these entities could lead to more reliable revenue streams. It’s worth noting that GHAMRO had previously worked with the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), but for undisclosed reasons, they terminated their contract with the association. Consequently, GHAMRO has claimed that broadcasting stations are not fulfilling their royalty obligations.

In 2021, GHAMRO achieved a legal victory against telecommunication networks, including MTN, Vodafone, and AirtelTigo (now AT). The court granted GHAMRO the requested reliefs, which encompassed the collection of royalties for public performances, accounting for revenue generated from such performances, payment of 10% copyright royalties on revenues generated from the use of works belonging to GHAMRO members, and obtaining blanket licenses for the use and performance of these works. It had been expected that GHAMRO, through its legal representatives, would engage with the telecom companies to implement these rulings and collaborate on providing partnership services to the industry. However, to date, no such execution or collaboration has taken place.

Big earner Shatta Wale

Another concern with GHAMRO Akosua Adjepong mentioned is data management challenges. Effective royalty distribution relies heavily on accurate artist information. GHAMRO has struggled with outdated and incomplete artist data, including missing contact details, bank account information, and registration documents. She suggests artist registration drives and a digital database

GHAMRO should conduct regular artist registration drives to update and verify artist information and the creation of a secure, centralized, and up-to-date digital database of artists and their contact and industry events to ensure comprehensive data collection.

Akosua Adjepong is fighting the chairman of GHAMRO over the structure and mode for collecting and distributing music royalties. Allegations of mismanagement and administrative inefficiencies within GHAMRO have exacerbated the issue. Rights owners have raised concerns about the organization’s transparency and its ability to handle finances effectively.

She demands that GHAMRO prioritize transparency by publishing annual reports detailing its financial activities, including income and expenses. This transparency, she believes, would build trust among musicians and industry stakeholders.

“Considering implementing basic governance reforms within GHAMRO such as ensuring that elected officials have the necessary expertise in copyright and royalty management would help address concerns about mismanagement,” suggested Hammer of the Last Two.

Music piracy and copyright infringement in Ghana persistently undermine right owners’ revenue. The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in reducing available royalties during lockdowns. Due to the perceived lack of enforcement capabilities within GHAMRO’s office, some of its members have turned to private companies or legal firms for assistance in cases of copyright infringement. Prominent rights owners such as Gasmilla and Henry Armaa (Nii Tei Ashitei’s successor) have sought support from Mali Miliki Institute, a Rights Management firm to help protect their intellectual property rights when their works were used without permission.

The survey revealed other pressing demands and reforms sought by the rights owners and stakeholders. These reforms encompass several key areas, including the call for GHAMRO to launch educational campaigns aimed at the public to raise awareness about the harmful effects of music piracy and copyright infringement. Engaging the public in the fight against piracy can have a significant impact on revenue protection.

Needed reforms include:

  1. A call for collaboration with law enforcement agencies will strengthen copyright enforcement measures, deter piracy, and prosecute copyright infringers. Building a strong legal framework is crucial in protecting musicians’ intellectual property rights.
  2. Improved Outreach and Education: Stakeholders are calling for GHAMRO to enhance its outreach and education efforts. This is aimed at encouraging more rights owners to become members of the organization, ensuring that a broader range of creators benefit from royalties.
  3. Enhanced Data Management Systems: GHAMRO is urged to upgrade its data management systems. This will help in the efficient tracking and distribution of royalties to rights owners.
  4. Increased Transparency: Stakeholders are advocating for greater transparency in GHAMRO’s financial matters. This includes clearer reporting on revenue collection and distribution to ensure fairness and accountability.
  5. Combating Piracy: There is a pressing need to intensify efforts to combat piracy within the music industry, protecting the rights and earnings of creators.

Rex Omar was elected as GHAMRO’s Chairman last year. The elections come after the newly elected seven (7) member board were sworn into office by a High Court Judge Justice Hafisata Amaleboba, on March 23, 2022 at the GHAMRO Board Room for the commencement of a four-year term which will end in 2026.

Like all other copyright societies, GHAMRO is a non-profit corporate body (limited by guarantee) and therefore all fees collected are to be distributed among the right owners whose works have been used, in this instance composers, authors and producers, and publishers in proportion to the use made of their works.

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