The proposal to impose a 1.8% levy on common consumer gadgets, suggested by the Uganda Musicians Association (UMA) and the National Culture Forum (NCF), is sparking debate and concerns among legislators and artists alike.
This tax aims to compensate authors in the creative industry, including musicians, authors of books, filmmakers, and visual artists, and is part of a push to amend the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act of 2006.
UMA, represented by director Sulaiman Kamulegeya, argues that the levy on gadgets like smartphones, flash drives, and tablets is essential since these devices are used for downloading and streaming local content, benefiting artists and creators. Charles Batambuze, the vice chairman of NCF, also highlights the need to regulate the sharing of revenue from caller ring back tunes, suggesting that artists should receive 60% of these earnings.
The proposed list of imported gadgets subject to the tax includes a wide range of devices like smartphones, hard drives, and smartwatches. UMA’s programs director, Geoffrey Ekongot, suggests that the government impose a smaller percentage on these gadgets to avoid a significant impact on their prices.
The artists argue that the creative industry faces rampant exploitation and that this levy could help artists earn a fair income. They propose that the levy should be collected by the Uganda Revenue Authority for domestically produced devices and at the point of importation for foreign-made devices. Additionally, they call for the creation of a copyright fund to manage the collected funds and ensure that different categories of rights holders receive their fair share through collecting societies.
The debate surrounding this levy was initiated by a petition presented in Parliament by National Youth MP, Phiona Nyamutoro, on behalf of the Uganda National Musicians Federation. Committee chair and Budiope East MP, Moses Magogo, stressed the importance of regulating the creative industry, which employs a significant number of young people.
Some MPs expressed reservations about the proposed levy. Kibaale County MP, Cuthbert Abigaba, questioned why artists sign contracts with telecom companies they later accuse of exploitation. Kawempe Division South MP Bashir Kazibwe asked if artists had lodged formal complaints about copyright infringement, to which Derrick Namakadde provided examples of ongoing cases.
MP Tony Ayoo raised concerns about the impact of mandating broadcasters to air 70% local content, worrying that consumers might still prefer foreign content. Koboko North County MP Noah Musa was concerned that the levy might increase gadget prices and reduce content downloads and engagement.
In response, musician Daniel Kazibwe, known as Ragga Dee, argued that even if gadget prices increased, it would support creatives, as the devices that use their content should be levied.
UMA’s Geoffrey Ekongot called on Parliament to protect artists from the competitive behavior of telecom companies, emphasizing the need for fair revenue sharing.
The proposal to tax gadgets to support the creative industry is sparking a spirited debate in Uganda, with artists and MPs divided over its potential impact on consumers and content creators. While artists argue that the levy is essential to combat exploitation in the creative industry, legislators are concerned about its effect on the prices of consumer electronics and the potential negative impact on the industry’s growth. The outcome of this debate will have far-reaching implications for the creative economy in Uganda.