SABC clears the air on claims it is refusing to pay royalties

The SABC has hit back at claims by the South African Music Performance Rights Association (Sampra) and some music artists that it is refusing to pay Needletime Rights royalties, reportedly amounting to more than R250m over more than five years.

Sampra said in a statement this week that it would head to court to compel the public broadcaster to pay to use its artists’ music.

“Failure by the SABC to do so will lead to an interdict prohibiting it from playing tracks from the association’s repertoire — 99% of all tracks in SA,” it said.

The SABC responded, saying it had noted the “scathing allegations” levelled against it and sought to “clarify the gross misinformation being fuelled by Sampra”.

“The SABC has a legal obligation to pay a predetermined percentage of needletime royalties to registered and accredited collecting societies. Currently, there are two known registered and accredited collecting societies, namely: Impra and Sampra.

“The SABC has set aside an amount due for payment of needletime royalties and has always been ready to pay the amount to the relevant collecting societies. Both Impra and Sampra are aware of this. However, the SABC has not paid needletime royalties to either collecting society, as the two collecting societies have not agreed on the percentage split of the determined amount.”

It said it had proposed that the dispute be referred to arbitration but this had also hit a brick wall.

“It is imperative to note that the SABC cannot pay needletime royalties to any collecting society while a dispute on the percentage split between the two collecting societies remains unresolved. Further, the resolution of the percentage split is dependent on the two collecting societies and not on the SABC,” the broadcaster added.

It claimed to have already made an advance payment of R20m to both agencies, and said it would respond to the legal challenge once it had been served with the relevant papers. 

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