Probe into artists' royalties
A COPYRIGHT review commission will start work in January to tackle the problem of South African artists who live in poverty because they are not paid their due royalties, Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Thandi Tobias-Pokolo said yesterday.
Citing the case of pop diva Brenda Fassie, Tobias-Pokolo said President Jacob Zuma was among those deeply concerned that local artists, especially musicians, "die poor".
So the government wanted to formalise the music industry to ensure that they earned a proper living "in a professional industry".
The issue was complicated by the fact that most musicians had sold their rights to recording studios, so that royalties flowed back to these companies, and that new technology, notably Internet distribution, meant existing laws were out of date.
The commission's brief was to investigate allegations that collecting societies did not pay the money they received from consumers out to artists.
Tobias-Pokolo said it was a common complaint from musicians that "I have R26 and my song has been played the whole year and I don't even know how many times my song (has) been played overseas".
"There is a belief that royalties are not distributed so we have to probe that," she said.
Collecting societies and others in the industry have showed considerable "resistance" to the idea of a review of their practices.
But allegations were so widespread that some artists had fingered the SABC for allegedly withholding royalties, It was now up to the commission to investigate the real problem.
Its findings could potentially lead to legal redress for wronged artists and law changes.
Senior Trade and Industry official Mandla Mnyatheli said the commission's work could lead to criminal investigations to recover withheld royalties.
He said trends like downloading songs as cellphone ringtones had created new uses for artists' material without guaranteeing them a return since regulations had not kept pace with practices.
The six-person commission will be headed by retired judge Ian Farlam and has a mandate of six months and budget of just over R3million. It is expected to deliver a report with recommendations to Tobias-Pokolo at the end of June.