Liberia: MTN Liberia Music Awards May Not Hold

As a result of a pending lawsuit from the Copyright Society of Liberia against the organizers of the awards for alleged violation of the country’s 2016 Intellectual Property law.

The Copyright Society of Liberia is planning to sue the organizers of the country’s biggest music award night — the MTN Liberia Music Awards (MLMA) — for alleged copyright violation.

The suit, which has already been drawn out, is expected to be filed any time soon to seek monetary penalties as well as an injunction to prevent additional copyright infringement by halting the awards program.

The MTN Liberia Music Awards is owned and organized by the Liberia Music Awards, with sponsorship from Lonestar Cell MTN. The telecommunications giant is not a party to the potential as the right of the awards is not owned by them. [1]

According to COSOL, the awards have been held for years in violation of the country’s intellectual property law and ensuing regulations as a result of the regulatory and statutory compliance failure.

“Your failure to obtain the appropriate license before hosting the aforementioned program will leave us with no option but to take the necessary and appropriate legal action against your Institution in keeping with the law,” COSOL Executive Director, Atty. Prince E. Decker, said in a letter to Boakai Boley, the Co-Founder of the Liberia Music Awards.

“You are [therefore] encouraged to take measures and seek advice on how to obtain a copyright license before the commencement of the MTN Liberia Music Award ceremony.”

COSOL, a specialized agency of the government through the Liberia Intellectual Property Office, is tasked with safeguarding the economic rights of all artists across the country. It guards their works by licensing the use; monitoring the user to enforce the conditions upon which the license has been granted, and collecting and distributing the royalty payable as a result of the licensed use.

The pending suit aims to hold the organizers of the awards for allegedly persistently breaking the country’s 2016 Intellectual Property Act and accompanying regulations — specifically concerning public performance rights. Under copyright law, a public performance license is an agreement between a music user rights management organization, like COSOL, which grants permission to a music user to play a song in public, online, or on the radio.

Meanwhile, the letter, which has been leaked, had telecommunication giant Lonestar Cell copied since they are the primary sponsor of the award.

The partnership began in 2018 and, since then, the award has morphed into the country’s most prestigious music award show featured each year. The MTN Liberia Music Awards, as presented by Lonestar Cell and the Liberia Music Award Foundation, is the music industry’s highest honor — recognizing the best of artistic creativity each year.

According to COSOL, the MLMA show is being organized in violation of section 9.6 (v) of the 2016 LIPO Act and, in keeping with section 5.3 of the 2021 Administrative Regulation for Copyright License Tariff for the use of Music and Movies in Sound Recording.”

Meanwhile, the Acting President of the Liberia Musician Union, whose members’ works are usually exploited without permission, expressed dismay that the organizers of the MTN Music Awards would host an award for years without adhering to the country’s copyright legislation.

“This is criminal exploitation of our efforts as we spent hours generating these works,” Tony Karbedeh said. “However, we are relieved that the COSOL is now awake.

Karbedeh pointed out that the organizers of the awards infringe on the moral rights of creators, giving the public the impression that they have endorsed the company to use their work in the absence of a license.

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