Legal advice: Artistes at a crossroads

Thursday May 20 2021
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The creative industry has not attracted the eye of lawyers. Artistes are subjected to unfair treatment when signing contracts. PHOTO | ANDREW I. KAZIBWE


Local artists find themselves between a rock and a hard place when negotiating for lucrative deals, thanks to lack of basic knowledge on law of contracts.

It is understood that artistes are also unable to find appropriate lawyers who understand their needs to enable them seal deals that favour them.

“I know no lawyer dealing with artistes matters in this market,” said Naason Nshimiyimana alias Naason, a musician, whose practice spans over 10 years, our music industry is still disorganised,” he adds. Nshimiyimana said that is was through his manager that legal matters like registration of his works, and other affairs are handled.

“I have not yet registered an individual creation,” said Manifique Nyararukundo, a film scriptwriter, who has been active for the past three years.

“I have no manager,” she said, “I am only paid, then I deliver the work, and credited in the film,” he adds.

But, not many artists can afford managers. “I don’t know anyone in the legal community who is specifically working on artistes’ issues apart from the Rwanda Development Board,” said John Kwezi, a filmmaker and founder of Almond Tree Films, a production company.


Kwezi recalls one of Almond Tree Films' past experiences, where one filmmaker was dragged to court on intellectual property infringement charges, which they later realised was because they had no specified lawyers to work with.

“We need lawyers who specifically understand and are dedicated to the creative industry practice,” he said.

“You can’t be well positioned in this industry without a lawyer,” said Alex Muyoboke, a renowned artistes manager from Decent Entertainment.

However, Muyoboke said any qualified lawyer can handle these matters. “If it is the laws, which they qualified in, I call lawyers to work on the issues,” he adds.

“I understand how many artistes are lost when it comes to rights, contracts or on how to negotiate payment, the minimum wage for an artiste, taxation, or if one is to hold an event, with some artistic content, which should be protected by the law,” said Carole Karemera, an actress, theatre practitioner, and Ishyo Arts’ Artistic director.

Kwezi noted that lawyers are specifically dedicated towards other sectors, but not the art and creative industry. “It is still a big challenge, the laws are in place, but we don’t have lawyers dedicated to the performing sector,” said Ferdinand Munezero, president of the Rwanda Art Council, an association governing Rwandan artistes.

With the association overseeing seven artistes’ union, Rwanda has about 4,000 artistes, who require direction in legal matters according to Munezero. “In Rwanda, generally lawyers deal with clients from various fields,” said Jean Nepomuscene Mugengangabo, a lawyer from Landmark Advocates, who specialises in corporate, commercial, and intellectual property laws.

Mugengangabo admits how this is a challenge, but further blames artistes for not being cautious about their matters, “The issue isn’t the lawyers, because we have many in this country who are specialised in matters like intellectual property rights and copyright, but most aristes aren’t aware,” he adds.

With most aristes having no knowledge of their rights or laws to protect them, Karemera believes not much will be attained. In line with policing, Munezero advises the Rwanda Development Board, the Rwanda Society Authors Union, and other stakeholders to incorporate lawyers into aristes' lobby groups.

“Like any other business, art has legal aspects, which aristes need to take seriously,” Munezero said.