Anthem rip-off comes closer to home

2012-06-23 18:11

South Africa’s national anthem faces the same exploitation at home as it does internationally.

City Press has discovered that Enoch Sontonga’s name is being used by publishers to claim false royalties here as well as abroad.

Last week City Press reported that the state had not protected its ownership of the 1997 national anthem from commercial gain by others.

Members of the committee that created it have not assigned their rights to the state, which has not logged it on databases for royalty collection.

The bulk of the anthem is a rearrangement of Sontonga’s hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, a work free of copyright because it is so old.

As this is also the commonly used name of our anthem, a loophole allows the global music industry to make an estimated R100 million a year from it in royalty collection when performed and broadcast.

Our investigation also exposed a suspicious publishing practice in which Sontonga’s name is falsely used to collect royalty.

Government this week failed to respond to City Press’s queries about what course of action it planned to take.

The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) this week described the international loophole as “shocking”.

Sipho Dlamini, Samro’s general manager of marketing, explained that the same loophole exists here. Any local musician is free to rearrange Sontonga’s song and collect royalties for their version.

“Samro does not collect or pay royalties against the national anthem,” he said.

When first approached for comment last week. Samro’s marketing manager, Kgomotso Mosenogi, said: “With regard to your question on the various versions of the national anthem, there is only one composition considered to be the national anthem and that is Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.”

But City Press has documentary proof that Samro has indeed paid out royalties to songs called Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Dlamini said Mosenogi’s statement was misinterpreted and the song was officially called South African National Anthem.

City Press this week traced 28 local versions of Nkosi Sikelela released on CD. Five are called South African National Anthem and have notified their rights to include themselves as well as the composers on Die Stem (Marthinus Lourens de Villiers) and the 1997 anthem
(Mzilikazi Khumalo; Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph).

Dlamini said he would check whether these recorded anthems were notified with Samro or another local society. City Press also found that some had been broadcast on local TV.

SABC pays in the region of R150 million a year to Samro for its music licence. It is very likely that Samro collected money to pay for versions of “South African National Anthem”.

When, for example, the anthem is played or performed at a rugby stadium in France before an SA-France test, the organisers will record that the song was used – as required by the collection society from which it has a licence.

It pays 3% of its ticket sales for music used. If the stadium is full this can earn the anthem R100 000 per play.

The society enters its music played into a system that has a record of who should be paid for the SA anthem.

The biggest hub is CIS-Net by FastTrack, with data from 225 global collection societies, including Samro, which is a member of Cisac, the founders of FastTrack.

If “South African National Anthem” is searched for in the system it also offers alternative titles for payment.

These include many versions of Nkosi Sikelela, the name most commonly used for the anthem. Any foreign publisher can enter adaptations of Nkosi Sikelela, as can Samro.

And there’s more: in a payment from Samro to a local publisher for a rearrangement of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, it emerged that Enoch Sontonga is listed as composer and author.

Although declaring the work is in the public domain, the statement still reflects 33% of the royalty is to be paid to him.

This use of Sontonga’s name to collect royalties has been traced in several countries. Music rights experts said it’s unclear where the money would go. One said it would most likely revert to a fund at the collecting society.

This could be released to the society after a given number of years had lapsed.

By deadline, Samro had not responded to further questions this week.


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