Who Owns The Ghana National Anthem

….Drs Philip Gbeho And/Or Michael Kwame Gbordzoe?

In Memory of Nana Kwamina Ansah, Yaa Asantewaa And Nii Kwabena Bonney III

The OmanbaPa Research Group

Recently, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice- Mrs Betty Mould Iddrisu, told journalists and media practitioners that expressions of folklore such as proverbs, poems, wise sayings, music, dances, Adinkra and Kente designs, are protected under the new Copyright Act 2005, (Act 690). “The rights are vested in the President of the Republic on behalf and in trust for the citizens just like all other heritage and natural resources of the country. There is the need to protect our expressions of folklore for the following reasons … improper and unfair exploitation of the cultural heritage due to the rapid technological development of our time; excessive commercialization of folklore without due respect for the economic and culture interest of the communities that originate them and distortion and mutilation of the folklore during the process of its exploitation,” the A-General says.

Honestly argued, in the field of research and invention, it is well established abroad that both originator(s) and developer(s) of ideas and knowledge have their rightful place in history. For example, whereas Scottish inventor James Watt (1736–1819) is said to have substantially improved steam engine, Englishman Thomas Newcomen’s model and patented (received exclusive rights to make, use, and sell) his own steam engine in 1769, yet Greek scientist Heron of Alexandria, is never ignored in the chain of harnessing the power of steam in the first century A.D. Thus he is said to have developed several devices that were operated by water, steam, or compressed air, including a fountain, a fire engine, and the steam engine which was radically improved in 1711 by Newcomen (1663–1729), who is said to have created a machine that used steam to pump water.

Thus whereas Watt’s invention is said to be the first to employ a separate device, called a condenser, which performed this function as against steam engines which previously depended on atmospheric pressure to push a piston (a sliding piece of metal moved by pressure) into a cylinder (a hollow tube) that create a vacuum by the cooling steam, the same is true of ‘Wright Flyer’ by Wright Brothers in 1898/1903 which has also undergone significant development in the 21st century with the invention of Jumbo Jets. Not forgetting Mercedes-Benz of fame which has its origins in Karl Benz’s creation of the first gasoline-powered automobile in January 1886 (Edmunds.com Mecedes-Benz History), and by Gottlieb Daimler and engineer Wilhelm Maybach’s conversion of a carriage by the addition of a petrol engine the same year. In all these, deserving credits are awarded…

Yes, human beings as we are, we need not only honest respect and acceptance for ourselves but also acknowledgement for our positive contribution to human society. If the compassionate Omnipresent God and creator Himself says HE is jealous, why not we, one may ask. It seems to JusticeGhana that even identical twins cannot sacrifice this inordinate egos, hence Dr. Michael Kwame Gbordzoe’s demands that he has no intentions of diminishing Dr. Gheho’s contribution but wants history to be documented correctly.

Not long ago, the Ghanaian media and here the Ghana News Agency and Asempa News carried a leading headline that read: “Scientist Claims Ghana’s National Anthem”. This, as it might have rang in the hearts and minds of many Ghanaians ignited a trembling question as to who that scientist was- a foreigner intended to take advantage of our newly-found crude oil deposits by engaging us with protracted intellectual property rights and ownership case or what, we asked. With our basic understanding of the intricacies and indeed unpredictability associated with copyrights and patent litigation, we prayed and wished mother Ghana well- that the claimant was/or is a “Gold Coast Ghanaian”.

Luckily the anxiety and fears of the OmanbaPa Research Group was vanquished when the decisive and trembling mouse-click landed us on the following intro: “A 67-year-old Ghanaian scientist based in Germany has told Asempa News that he is the original author of the Ghana National Anthem.” The reader might have imagined the joyous tears. Thus Dr. Michael Kwame Gbordzoe had told in an interview that it is his lyrics: ‘God Bless Our Homeland Ghana’, which has been adopted as Ghana’s National Anthem and wants to be given due recognition. In the opinion of JusticeGhana, what makes the learned professor a true patriot is the humility in his claims despite the fact that he is fast on his way to Ruhestand- a period many would have forcefully seized to reconcile past financial deficits.

So who ought to hold the copyright of the Ghana National Anthem that without it being played, no reputable national ceremony could begin- Gbeho and/or Gbordzoe? Under the theme “The rights and responsibilities of the media under the Copyright law”, Attorney-General Betty Mould Iddrisu defines Copyright under the current legislation as a term that describes the exclusive rights granted by law to the creators of literary, musical, artistic works, broadcasts and computer programmes. “Copyright is not a mere theory. It is a practical and an important tool for the protection of creativity. Copyright Law springs from the understanding and agreement that the person who creates, produces or invests in a creative work should be the one to decide how that work should be reproduced and made available to the public,” the former Director, Legal and Constitutional Affairs of the Commonwealth Secretariat- Mrs Mould-Iddrisu, told her packed audience on 31 July 2009.

Here the forces of theories and practicalities as advocated by the learned Attorney-General, could be that whereas Dr Philip Gbeho was a well-known politician at the period under investigation, the now Professor Michael Kwame Gbordzoe was then a schoolboy. So perhaps his solemn contention and bargain, as quoted by Asempa, are that the current recognition given soley to the late Dr Gbeho as author of the national anthem is improper since Dr. Gbeho only composed the song from his lyrics. According to Asempa News report, Dr. Gbordzoe contends that the anthem authored by the late Patriot Gbeho is the ‘Lift High the Flag oh Ghana’, which was indeed used for sometime before our nation adopted his, which is: God Bless Our Homeland Ghana that we all cherish today?

Although Gbordzoe is said to have hinted that he admires Gbeho’s enormous contribution to music in Ghana when he was Director for Institute of Arts and Culture during the era of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s led Convention Peoples Party (CPP)- and the National Symphony Orchestra, the “senior citizen” who seems to have considerable amount of knowledge of history about our country appears to suggest that it smacks academically dishonest and morally unfair and unconscionable, if the Ghanaian were to raise a contra argument to the effect that his five words: “God Bless Our Homeland Ghana”, form less than a complete line in our favourite hymn which, he did not popularise it himself?

It is unclear as to how the former minister of state got hold of young Kwame Gbordzoe’s works. As the sitting Attorney-General Mould-Iddrisu puts it, besides being a copyright owner through the creation of a copyright work, one may become a copyright owner by transfer, purchase or assignment of a copyright work in one’s favour by the original creator. However, the assignee, purchaser or transferee of a copyright work can only exercise the economic rights in the work; the moral right still belongs to the original creator. So whatever might be the case, there seems to be interesting case on the offing.

Thus in getting that part of our history properly documented, Gbordzoe, who is a Research Scientist at the Institute of Physics, University of Wuerzburg, and had said that he believes if he is duly recognized, it will serve as a motivation for students, told Asempa Jerry Tsatro Mordy that his motive of pursuing the matter is to inspire creativity among the Ghanaian youth since he composed the lyrics when he was a young boy. As to how the young Kwame Gbordzoe was able to come up with such libretto of national importance to surpass that of the then Director for Institute of Arts and Culture under the Osagyefo and the National Symphony Orchestra, is puzzling, at least, for a country where much of its historical events had been subjectively, based on hearsay and victors’ justice.

Yet Dr. Gbordzoe submits that he has documentary evidence to prove his claim, and therefore, has already petitioned President Mills and the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, as well as the Chieftaincy and Culture Ministry, for proper documentation and redress? This turned on the question of why he had delayed for such a longer time until now. Dr. Gbordzoe is said to have noted that the tumultuous changes Ghana went through during several military interventions made it difficult for him to pursue the matter. As to why the judiciary at the time couldn’t resolve such non-political question, suggests the fears, uncertainties and frustrations that might have sent many beyond graves. Thus the professor who seems lucky to be around to lay claim to his rightful place in history, according to Asempa, recalled his attempts to ‘right the wrong’ through a former Director of State Protocol, whom he recalled as Blavo, but could not succeed.

Professor Michael Kwame Gbordzoe who lives and works in faraway Würzburg- the capital of Lower Franconia, Bavaria, on the River Main, Germany, is said to have been motivated by the current democratic dispensation, and seems confident in our current institutions- and here government, judiciary and the chieftaincy that it is appropriate for him to come down not only to ensure that history is properly documented but perhaps, to exercise his moral rights as against the strict statutory and indeed common law rules. As the Attorney-General explained to the media, under moral rights, the creator (any work?) shall have the sole right to claim authorship of the work and in particular to demand that his/her name or pseudonym be mentioned whenever and wherever the work is used.

Thus under this rule, Mrs Mould-Iddrisu explains that the author has the right to object to any distortion, mutilation, rearrangement or other modification of his work that might be prejudicial to his honour or reputation. “Following from above, both sets of rights (economic and moral) belong to the creator. The exercise of these rights means that the creator can use the work himself, can give permission to someone else to use the work or prohibit people from using the work. The general principle is that copyright protected works should be used with the authorization of the owners of the rights,” she added.

But from the interpretation tagged on expressions of folklore such as proverbs, poems, wise sayings, music, dances, Adinkra and Kente designs and, in our present case the phrase(s): God Bless and/or Our Homeland Ghana, it is unclear who might deservedly own the National Anthem. The original intent of copyright as it had always been and as explained by the Attorney-General Mould-Iddrisu, is that the registration of a copyright work is permitted under the law and may be done at any time during the subsistence of the copyright. “The registration of a copyright work enhances the protection of the work and also helps to resolve disputes that are associated with ownership of works. An individual whose name or pseudonym is indicated on a work as the author shall be presumed to be the creator of the work if there is no proof to the contrary,” she says.

In this context, Professor Michael Kwame Gbordzoe would be expected to show all relevant valid documents to support his sole or co- ownership of the Ghana National Anthem. As the A-General puts it, “Under the Copyright Act 2005, Act 690 of Ghana, copyright protection begins when a work is created and lasts for the life time of the author and 70 years after his death. It has to be explained that a copyright work does not however require any formalities as a condition for protection. Copyright protection results automatically on the completion of the work. To this end, a copyright work irrespective of its quality, manner, purpose or registration has the right to protection.”

Although the decision of this petition is not yet reached, the reasoning of the sitting Attorney-General, under whose government a Founder Day, instead of Founders’ Day, is about to be legislated, offers some legal pot-holes in this matter. To avoid prolonged litigation and names calling, probably, Professor Michael Kwame Gbordzoe might seek an out of court settlement on his petition to the Presidency. Yet, we of the OmanbaPa Research Group, are following it closely and shall yes, evaluate the worth of its outcome.

First Published at Ghanaweb, 18 Aug 2009


Written by

Gina is the Director of Health and Publisher, JusticeGhana Group.

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