In Nigeria, telecom operators (e.g. MTN, Glo, Airtel, Etisalat etc) offer various value added services such as ring tones, caller tunes, internet radio etc to their subscribers. To access these services, subscribers are able to download their preferred artiste’s song (as a caller tune) by paying a monthly fee (currently N50).
As copyright in these songs are owned by the respective artistes/recording company, the telecom operators will require authorisation from the copyright owner(s) before they can legally make the songs available for their subscribers’ use.
However, these telecom operators do not deal directly with the copyright owners. Rather, “content distribution companies” approach the copyright owner(s) and obtain license to distribute the relevant song(s) to the telecom operators. Under this arrangement, the telecom operators provide the distribution companies with distribution reports and also share the monthly download fee with them based on the agreed percentage (usually fixed by the telecom operators).
The content distributors then “work” on prepare new distribution reports and send same to the copyright owner along with the owner’s share of the payment received by the distributors (after deducting “advertising” costs, Value Added Tax etc.).
In these circumstances, copyright owners have always asked: How do I ascertain the accuracy of these distribution reports when I am not privy to the report received directly from the telecom operators? How am I sure that the distributor did not receive more than it has declared?
In this Leo’s experience, the Content Distribution Agreements are always the same; the distribution reports never arrive at the stated time; the (royalty) payments are never received at a stated time and when payment is finally made, the amount received after the above-stated deductions, is usually laughable.
In view of the foregoing, this Leo is yet to decipher what advantage the current arrangement serves for the copyright owners. Given the huge number of subscribers using these caller tunes and the number of “content distribution companies” springing up on a daily basis, it is suggested that the time and circumstances are both right for copyright owners to insist on dealing directly with the telecom operators or at least having a tripartite (3-party) arrangement where the copyright owners receive the same report from the telecoms operators as the distributors.