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Senegalese fight for music rights

Lawsuit filed against media giant Walfadjri

KIGALI, Rwanda A landmark ruling against Senegal’s largest media conglom has stoked long-simmering tensions over copyright law in the West African nation, prompting the country’s musicians to demand a bigger piece of the pie.

In a lawsuit filed by the Senegalese Office for Artists’ Royalties against media giant Walfadjri, local artists accused the company of robbing them of royalty fees for music broadcast on its TV and radio stations.

To the musicians’ surprise, the court sided with them and issued an injunction ordering the media group to pay license fees for the music they play on air.

This was enforced by the police, which closed down the Walf TV channel and Walf Radio station last month, pending payment.

According to Abdoul Aziz Dieng, who is on the board of the Musicians’ Union of Senegal and president of the Office for Artists’ Royalties it was the first time such a lawsuit had been heard in Senegal.

The artists’ triumph was short lived.

Walfadjri, claiming it was being unfairly targeted, lodged an appeal. The court ruled in its favor and Walfadjri resumed broadcasting just six days later.

The court battle is part of a larger struggle for musicians in Senegal, a country with a long history of producing iconic singers like R&B star Akon and world music legend Youssou N’Dour.

Despite the country’s success on the international stage, few local musicians profit from their work.

According to Dieng, piracy is one of the biggest challenges for Senegalese artists, as it is worldwide. He estimates that only two out of every 10 CDs on the market are legally produced.

But radio and TV stations also hamper the growth of the industry, he says, profiting from local musicians without offering compensation for their work.

In the tussle with Walfadjri, Dieng notes that “copyrighted music and videos play an essential role at the TV station.” The artists, he says, are only seeking fair compensation.

Dieng promises to continue the legal battle.

“We are not ready to accept (the ruling),” he says. “We are determined to find justice.”

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