• Up-and-coming musicians are keen to get airplay – with good reason.
    • But a fight about royalties in South Africa means airplay alone may not pay the bills.
    • A royalty organisation says the SABC isn't paying its dues; the SABC begs to differ.

    Having their music play on the radio or television is a big deal for musicians – it brings both exposure and royalties. But that is not necessarily true in South African, according to Tiyani Maluleke, chief strategic officer for the South African Performance Rights Association (Sampra)

    Only a handful of organisations, including clubs, pay needle-time fees to use music, Maluleke says, and without cash coming in from especially the SABC, that means musicians are out of pocket.

    "Many up and coming artists are enticed by the glitz and glamour and lack an interest in the technical aspects of making music," she says.

    If they were to instead get into songwriting and production, they'd stand a better chance of creating wealth for themselves.

    Sampra was established in 2008 by the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) as a needle-time collection agency, to collect royalties for songs played on radio, TV, or in a public venue.

    But no agreement was ever made on how much will be collected per song.

    In 2012 the SA Copyright Tribunal approved a method to calculate royalties from radio airplay, but that was appealed by the National Association of Broadcasters. At the appeal, the tribunal's ruling to set a tarrif was set aside.

    Maluleke says only a hand full of entities, including clubs and retail stores, pay licensing fees. The SABC, with its 20 radio stations, is not among those.

    “This means that they are playing music illegally,” she says.

    The SABC strongly disagrees. Spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago says the SABC pays (non-needle-time) royalties to a range of collection agencies: the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro); the Composer Authors and Publishers Association (CAPASSO); RiSA; and the Association of Independent Record Companies (Airco) annually for the use of their members' music on all SABC platforms.

    "In the case of needle-time royalties, the SABC has been willing to pay since the Supreme Court of Appeal's 2014 needle-time judgement," says Kganyago.

    In March 2014 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled, in a complex judgment, that a new formula should be used to calculate royalties.

    "But we had to negotiate with the two relevant collecting societies (Sampra and Impra) regarding a split for the members they collect for," Kganyago says.

    They have not yet reached agreement, which has hampered the process of the payment of royalties. 

    The public broadcaster went ahead and devised a split based on the SCA judgement which they communicated with the two agencies – but Sampra threatened them with an interdict should they continue with the payment plan, he says.

    "We are looking into possibly taking the issue of all music rates to the Copyrights Tribunal to be objectively determined," Kganyago says.

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