Sampra and SABC to go to court over non payment of royalties

Johannesburg – The South African Music Performance Rights Association (Sampra) has written letters to all its artists and record companies explaining its decision to take the SABC to court in a move that could see their music being taken off the public broadcaster’s playlist.

The letter, which was sent to its members on Monday, follows our story that the SABC could face a near-total music black-out if Sampra gets a court order to remove songs belonging to over 38 000 artists and 5000 record companies it represents after an impasse over needle time royalties.

Sampra, a collective management organisation (CMO) has accused the SABC of refusing to pay it over R250 million needle time royalties which it was supposed to distribute to artists who are now struggling to make ends after lockdown restrictions prohibit them from plying their trade.

In the letter, which we have seen, Sampra spokesperson Tiyani Maluleke explains in detail why the organisation decided to go the legal route.

This apparently after many artists and record companies it represents asked it to take them into its confidence and also promised to throw their full weight behind the organisation.

“We have previously indicated to you how we, as SAMPRA, have found ourselves in this position. The SABC has never ever taken a licence with SAMPRA. We have engaged them for years but they have consistently refused to take up a licence.

In 2018, the SABC paid 75% of the amount due to Needletime Rights, for the 2014/15 financial year, to IMPRA without just cause. Before this payment was made, we had engaged them and even presented evidence to them that showed that we owned approximately 99% of the music that they use on their radio stations,” reads the letter.

Maluleke also said despite presenting the evidence to the SABC, it still went ahead and paid royalties to a rival collecting society, IMPRA.

Maluleke also rubbished SABC’s claims that it was unable remit payment of royalties because both organisations could not agree on royalties split.

“Their allegation that the failure on their to part to pay for Needletime Rights is due to the fact that we, as SAMPRA, have not agreed on a share split with IMPRA is pure deception. As indicated in our communication to you of 16 July 2021, we presented our data to the SABC which shows that we own approximately 99% of the music used in their radio stations.

There is nothing that we as SAMPRA need to agree to with IMPRA because IMPRA is not using our members’ music, the SABC is. The SABC is purposefully misleading the public, as well as the music industry with this irresponsible statement. We have, on numerous occasions, indicated to the SABC that the issue of having competing CMOs is not unique to South Africa. Italy has four needletime CMOs; Canada has three, France has two; and Ukraine has nineteen. But this has never posed a problem to any radio broadcaster in these territories because broadcasters know that payment is made in terms of repertoire representation. Why is this a problem for the SABC?,” reads the letter.

Maluleke further said she was disappointed that it was only the SABC that had qualms with paying them.

Commercial radio stations and other non-broadcasting services, she added, have been paying them without any qualms because they understand the provisions of the Copyright Act and the Performers’ Protection Act.

“Why is it that the SABC is the only music user that has a problem with the law?
Commercial broadcasters also respect the music industry. The same cannot be said about the SABC, the public broadcaster that is funded by taxpayers’ monies.

It was agreed, at the time, that the SABC would pay SAMPRA that amount while our licensing negotiations continue to take place.

At that time, we had agreed on an arbitration process, which in our view would have given us a resolution to this matter quicker and cost-effectively.

As we were preparing for this process, IMPRA refused to sign the arbitration papers.

The SABC then refused to proceed to arbitration without IMPRA, even though the dispute is between SAMPRA and the SABC. The SABC still owes SAMPRA more than R250 million,” reads the letter.

The SABC said in a statement issued on Tuesday, said it noted with concern the scathing allegations levelled against the Corporation by SAMPRA and some music artists through public statements.

“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. The Corporation views this matter in a serious light and would like to clarify the gross misinformation which is being fueled by SAMPRA. The SABC has a legal obligation to pay a predetermined percentage of needeltime royalties to registered and accredited Collecting Societies. Currently, there are two known registered and accredited Collecting Societies namely, IMPRA and SAMPRA,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

The SABC further stated, “To facilitate the resolution of the dispute between the two Collecting Societies, the SABC had proposed that the matter be referred to Arbitration for speedy resolution. Regrettably, notwithstanding the in-principle agreement to refer the matter to an arbitration process, the two Collecting Societies could not agree to the scoping of the dispute. Thus, the Arbitration could not be pursued.”

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