Guest Column

Copyright bill goes too far on royalties

2017-07-30 05:52
Sibongile Khumalo

Sibongile Khumalo

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Sibongile Khumalo

Not paying royalties to artists whose work is used in education would threaten livelihoods.

The recent passing of Ray Phiri, Wake Mahlobo, Johnny Mekoa and Errol Dyers has sent shock waves across the industry. Death tends to do that – even though we know it is an eventuality.

As a music composer and performer, their passing feels even closer to home. It forces one to consider one’s own mortality. To consider that there may not be another chance on that stage. It forces one to think about one’s family and how one’s children will fare after one is gone. It is a sobering thought.

While I have a retirement annuity and I serve on the board of the SA Music Rights Organisation alongside my peers such as Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Loyiso Bala, Arthur Mafokate and Gabi le Roux, and even though my children are set in their careers, I still reflect on how quickly things can change in life.

The perception is that most performers lack education and business acumen – and I am not even talking about formal academic training. The truth is, whatever one’s level of education, as a practitioner in the creative industry, we have to empower ourselves with knowledge about our industry if we want to be more than a “one-hit wonder”. It is critical.

We cannot exist only to be exploited

I grew up in a very musical family. Before his career as a historian and music professor at the University of Zululand, my father started out as a choir conductor, while my mother was a very talented singer only thwarted by a lack of opportunities. To top it all, my brother was a jazz devotee. Before then, my paternal grandfather was a concertina-playing maskandi musician. So, music dominated our home. From a tender age I was already preparing for what was to come.

I learnt very early the importance of protecting myself and my work in this dynamic and often uncertain industry of ours. It is consequently worrying to me to learn about the proposed Copyright Amendment Bill that has been presented to Parliament. It is even more chilling that many of my peers – young and old – are unaware of the implications should this document be passed into law.

Education is a core priority for all of us in society, but I believe the bill goes too far when it says that no royalties will be paid to us if our creations (be they books, scripts, songs) are used by educational institutions for their learners. This means that prescribed textbooks, lyrics, plays, will be copied and used for free without any compensation for the authors and composers who worked hard to produce these creative works.

Many creators work hard to see the day when their work is recognised and made accessible to students of the art form. But surely not without any compensation? How can we let the bill pass without a fight?

In other sections, the bill gives users of music, such as broadcasters, similar rights to myself, the artist who wrote and recorded the music. How can this be? How can a user of my music share in royalty payments earned by the music that I wrote and/or recorded even though they did not sit through late nights and early mornings struggling to write the music or struggling to get the right tune in the studio? What does it mean for my livelihood?

For this reason, I maintain that it is critical that we educate ourselves as musicians and performers. We cannot exist only to be exploited.

There are several authors, academics and organisations acting on behalf of creators and their representatives who have come together to form the SA Copyright Alliance to specifically confront the threat posed by the Copyright Amendment Bill. I salute and support them and urge the public, particularly those of us with an interest in the growth and wellbeing of our beautiful creative economy, to support us on this very pertinent issue.

Music has brought me and my family boundless joy and satisfaction over the years, but it comes our way after much hard work. It is for this very reason that I believe that we, as artists, should be rewarded for the effort we put into creating the music and literature enjoyed by all.

Khumalo is an award-winning singer and producer. She is also deputy chairperson of the board of the SA Music Rights Organisation

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