SAMPRA to take legal action against SABC over unpaid royalties

The South African Music Performance Rights Association (SAMPRA) has announced that it will take legal action against the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) over needletime royalties.

Needletime rights are paid out to record labels and recording artists for the public performance of their commercially released recordings. SAMPRA says it will file a complaint with the courts to compel the SABC to pay for the use of its artists’ music. The collective management organisation (CMO) said the SABC’s failure to pay would result in an interdict prohibiting the public broadcaster from playing tracks from SAMPRA’s repertoire, which constitutes 99% of South African compositions.

“It is more than 16 months since South Africa went into lockdown and the SABC is pouring salt into the wounds of recording artists,” SAMPRA CEO Pfanani Lishivha said. “By maintaining their stance of not paying for needletime rights, as well as negotiating in bad faith, the broadcaster is continuing in its trend of undermining SAMPRA’s members.

“As SAMPRA, we represent more than 38 000 direct performer members, and almost 6 000 direct record company members. This amounts to 99% of all tracks performed in South Africa, and a large number of these are played on SABC radio stations. SAMPRA members’ intellectual property makes up more than 95% of the SABC’s playlist. Thousands of SAMPRA members are directly losing an income from the broadcaster, and this has resulted in dire consequences, such as members’ houses being repossessed, artists being unable to pay for their children’s school fees and not being able to pay for day-to-day expenses such as food, electricity and water.”

SAMPRA said the SABC had jeopardised artists’ livelihoods by refusing to pay royalties amounting to more than R250m ($17m), particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown when artists have not been permitted to host performances.

“The public broadcaster is not only flouting the law, but further continues to use SAMPRA members’ intellectual property without compensating them for their works,” SAMPRA said. “By blatantly exploiting the performing artists, the beleaguered corporation is directly infringing on the artists’ rights to generate an income from their music.”

Legendary musician Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse weighed in on the matter and implored the SABC to pay up.

“As artists, it seems like our plight is not taken as seriously as other industries,“ he said. ”The lockdown has been detrimental for us, as we are not able to generate a single cent. But ironically, the SABC continues to play our tracks in order to make the public feel hopeful about the current state of affairs and to generate advertising revenue for themselves. The SABC knows the power of music, but they are not willing to pay us for our works.”

This is not the first time SAMPRA has taken on the SABC over royalties. In 2018, the CMO and the Independent Music Performing Rights Association were at loggerheads with the state-owned broadcaster over what they called disproportionate royalty payouts.

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