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The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) is a membership-based organisation that administers the performing right in musical works on behalf of its composer and publisher members.
SAMRO plays a key role in the music ecosystem of South Africa and regularly engages with other players in this ecosystem, including its members, other copyright management organisations, and users of music, the recording industry, as well as policy and lawmakers.
Following the presentation of the new SAMRO strategy at the AGM of November 2017, which focusses on member-centricity, operational and governance efficiency and policy review, the membership at that meeting gave SAMRO the mandate to engage in a full policy and systems review.
This review has included various engagements with members, included Roundtable meetings in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, and has included assessments of the rules governing membership, distribution and directorship at SAMRO.
Also under review have been the distribution rules governing the calculation of royalties earned for the arrangement of gospel and traditional music that is in the public domain (so called “DP” works). A musical work is classified as “DP” by SAMRO when it does not enjoy copyright protection and is in the public domain (domaine publique, DP). Contrary to various media reports, DP is not person but a system identifier to classify works that are in the public domain.
In an article published on 1 April 2018, it was alleged by the media that SAMRO is involved in the unlawful deduction of royalties pertaining to re-arrangements of music that is in the public domain (i.e. not copyright-protected). SAMRO stands by its rejection of the allegation that it has acted unlawfully and views the statements as deeply false and misleading.
We acknowledge that the treatment of arrangements of public domain works requires attention by ourselves as a membership-based organisation and the Government of South Africa, from a copyright policy and socio-economic perspective.
This arrangement rule currently recognises a capped 16.7% copyright royalty share for the portion of the work that the arranger created on the back of the original public domain work. This percentage is allocated to the person who arranges the DP work. The balance of 83.3% of the royalty share that would have accrued to the rest of the arrangement had the DP portion been in copyright is held back and distributed to all the active musical works belonging to SAMRO members in proportion to the use of their music during the period under review.
The idea behind this rule is that it would not be equitable for the re-arranger of the music to benefit from 100% of the royalties because he/she has used someone else’s music as a base and has only contributed to a portion of the new arrangement. Royalties are neither collectable or payable for out-of-copyright/public domain works. As such, SAMRO’s licensing arrangements are limited to the copyright-protected musical works of its members.
SAMRO accepts that this rule, although not unlawful, is ripe for review by the membership to have a more favourable impact on the arranger who decides to “revive” a traditional song that has now fallen outside copyright. The members of SAMRO, during the roundtable consultations, have engaged favourably on this matter and it has been agreed that the percentage payable should be increased from the current 16.7%. It should be noted that the 16.7% level is benchmarked internationally with most similar organisations pegging the percentage between 12.5%-25%.
Other important matters discussed at the roundtables were:
- the simplification of membership categories,
- understanding membership criteria,
- streamlining of member benefits,
- the introduction of more independent directors on the board,
- inadequate music usage reporting by users of music,
- the Copyright Amendment Bill currently under review,
- SAMRO’s commitment to transformation,
- the link between local content music quotas on broadcasters and higher local royalty distributions, and
- the need for increased member engagement to ensure an increased understanding of how SAMRO operates and its role in the larger music ecosystem.
It is unfortunate to note that at the Johannesburg roundtable meeting that took place on Monday 23 April 2018, a group of non-SAMRO members forced their way into what was a members-only meeting. It is believed the lack of understanding of the role SAMRO plays in the music industry was the cause of the numerous non-member musicians demanding entry into the meeting. SAMRO is in fact an administrator of active copyright music used by licensees, but is largely and wrongly viewed as the central body responsible for policy and socio-economic issues in the music industry. SAMRO accepts it has a contribution to make in this regard, but it is important to note that SAMRO’s mandate remains limited to its members and to matters of copyright, and specifically the public performance right, in compositions. This means that matters relating to recording contracts, unfair practices between musicians in general as well as any other artist royalties and revenues are excluded from SAMRO’s mandate.
The executive team at SAMRO is now collating all member inputs and encourages any more submissions to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
The submissions and recommendations will be presented to the membership of SAMRO at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) in June 2018, where it is hoped that new rules will be adopted that reflect the members’ will and best interests.