Apart from attaining indescribable fame, Michael Jackson or Wacko Jacko as he was popularly known among those who loved and loathed him, made a fortune before his sudden demise in 2009.
But it is in his after life, that he made even more money, banking $1 billion from his estates and unreleased music.
According to 2010 Billboard magazine article Three Lessons in Brand Management from Michael Jackson, Jacko’s story is a valuable lesson on brand management.
However, here at home, the same cannot be said about artists who died.
For example, Evison Matafale’s family is yet to benefit since his death on November 27 2001.
“Since Matafale died people are only abusing his work. We are yet to see any income from his music,” complains Toza Matafale, brother to Evison.
Another artist whose work is being exploited is Grace Chinga who died in March this year.
Industry experts say the challenge lies in Malawi’s copyright laws.
They say in most countries, copyright and the Artist’s Resale Right are valuable assets that allow artists to generate an income from royalties during their lifetime and for 70 years after their death.
Veteran musician ‘Soldier’ Lucius Banda agrees. He says there are no systems in place to protect the copyright of artists after their death.
“Being a musician in Malawi is the most terrible thing which you can invest a lot of money in and get nothing at the end of the day. The environment is not enabling to take music as business venture,” said Lucius.
But Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) president the Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango blames the inexistence of professional recording labels as a major contributing factor to poor brand management.
“Record labels play a major role in safeguarding the copyright issues for particular artists. Even in the event of death, they are able to make follow ups with relevant authorities to ensure that royalties and other benefits are collected.
“My emphasis is on the professional recording companies because there are issues of contracts that guide their actions to ensure that artists brand is protected all the time,” said Mhango.
He said most Malawian artists end up losers when it comes to managing the brand due to ignorance and non respect of copyright laws.
“Because people in Malawi do not have respect for copyright laws, they think it is normal to infringe on other’s works. And most families do not know who to follow up with in order to trace the benefits of their fallen artists benefits,” he said.
Mhango, however, indicated that MUM is currently working on strategies to ensure that artists in the country are aware of copyright issues to ensure that they are fully protected.
“For your information, the new Copyright Act will be in full force from January next year. There will be sensitisation campaigns on the same,” he said.
To build a compelling brand means building a marketable product which ought to be sold and fruits be earned just like Michael Jackson’s brand which created jobs for many people, according to one music expert Robert Chanunkha the executive dean of Bingu School of Culture and Heritage at Malawi University of Science and Technology in Thyolo.
He said brand management involves giving identity to products and services so that they are distinguishable from others. It extends to include an artist who should have an identity in the manner of dressing, speech and personality. Brand management works well when the products and services of music are original, not copied. It is then obtained through trademarks or patents which are yet to be seen in the Malawian music industry.
However, he said the economic benefits of music cannot be realised when artists choose neither to register nor indicate the beneficiary with the Copyright Society of Malawi
Cosoma senior licensing officer Rosario Kamanga said, while the society strive to protect the rights of artists in the country, non-payment of royalties and lack of resources continue to choke its operations.
“We try our level best but it is the same old story that the society doesn’t collect enough royalties from the broadcasters. Suffice to say, Cosoma is always short of resources to carry out most of operations,” said Kamanga. n