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Music Royalties' Lawsuit Closes Senegal's Largest Private TV Station

Music copywrite law is not just a hot topic in the United States. The West African nation of Senegal has a long tradition of producing talented musicians. But many of these artists find it hard to survive because few media outlets pay them for broadcasting their music. This could now change due to a landmark lawsuit brought against the country's largest private TV station.

Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal, Orchestre Baobab, Akon… Some of the most renowned African artists on the international music scene come from Senegal.

If you are a musician trying to make it in Senegal, you may find success but you will find it hard to make a living.

Miriam is a popular Senegalese hip-hop artist from the all-female group, Alif. She says she has been making music for 12 years and has never made any money from the products that she has created. She has had to rely on concerts and tours to make a living. She says she gets nothing from album sales and the payment of royalties is very complicated.

Pirated music is a big challenge for Senegal's music industry. But musicians here are grappling with an even more basic truth: most radio and TV stations play their music but do not pay royalty fees.

Miriam says the television stations refuse to pay and the radio stations pay a little here and there. They act as if they are giving us charity, she says. So really it is not easy.

Now a landmark lawsuit brought by the Senegalese Office for Artists' Royalties against two major Dakar media outlets could turn music-making into a profitable business.

Police have closed down the radio and TV broadcasts of Senegal's largest media conglomerate, Walfadjri, following a court injunction ordering the media group to pay license fees for music they air.

The court has also ordered Walfadjri to sign a "general representation" contract with the Office for Artists' Royalties.

Abdulaziz Dieng is on the board of the Musicians' Union of Senegal and president of the Office for Artists' Royalties:

"Walfadjri is a very big station here in Senegal and so many people listen to it, above all because of the music and the films they show," he said. "But, it is this television that does not want to sign a contract with the Union and does not want to pay royalties. Copywrited music and videos play an essential role at this TV station."

In a statement published in their newspaper, Walfadjri media group said, "If Wal Fadjri was outside of the law, then the tax office would be our grave-digger, which is not the case."

They also said the Office for Artists' Royalties was unfairly targeting them while not pursuing other media companies.

Dieng says it is the first time that such a court decision has been put into action.

Dieng says the decision is based simply on the respect of royalties and the acknowledgment that artists should be paid for their creative works. This is a job that should be paid for, he says, just as the law states.

The popular Dakar-based rapper Ibson agrees.

Ibson says musicians in France live off of royalties rather than album sales. No one is selling hundreds of thousands of discs anymore, he says. Nowadays artists make money from royalties. If we can apply this in Senegal - that the radios pay regularly for the music, then artists could really make a living. He says there are so many radio and TV stations in Senegal - this could work!

Abdulaziz Dieng says the Office for Artists' Royalties wants a partnership with radio and television stations where both sides win. Artists need radio and TV. And radio and TV need artists' creations. But, Dieng says, in return they must pay.