How money is made off our anthem

2012-06-16 17:40

The original version of what makes up the bulk of the South African anthem – Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika – was composed by an Eastern Cape teacher, Enoch Sontonga.

However, 50 years after his death the work returned to the public domain and anyone could rearrange it and create a new version.

Many did, and it is these versions that are being logged on secretive international music databases for royalty collection when the national anthem is played or performed.

The Department of Trade and Industry’s Sidwell Medupe said: “The national anthem is a work commissioned by the state and should by right be owned by the state.”

But lawyers say the state can’t own the anthem just by declaring it does.

A song, they say, cannot be commissioned under the copyright act. It has to be assigned to government in writing.

However, the main composer on the 1994 anthem committee, Professor Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, this week said she never signed any contract and worked on the anthem as a “service to the country”.

The South African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) doesn’t seem to know where it stands on the matter.

First it told City Press the original composers earned rights that were placed in a special account.

Later in the week it said no one earned a cent.

But plenty of musicians have logged their versions of Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika in other countries and are eligible to earn from it.

Versions range from those created for choirs, music libraries and orchestras like the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra to renditions by singing stars like Helmut Lotti for his album Out of Africa and Joseph Shabalala’s a cappella version with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

There are also several versions created for films, most notably by Academy Award-winning German composer Hans Zimmer and Grammy-nominated local composer Cedric Samson for the film Mandela and De Klerk.

Despite Lotti having been found guilty in a Belgian court in 2005 for stealing two other South African songs for the Out of Africa album, artists are perfectly entitled to create new versions.

That’s if – according to Medupe – they apply to the National Herald for permission.

The director of the National Herald, Themba Mabaso said, however, that he “cannot remember any correspondence” from the famous names on the databases.

It also doesn’t matter, say experts, that these versions are not actually the 1994 anthem that combines Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika with Die Stem, thereby creating a new work that is open to royalty collection.

They can be versions of the original Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika.

What matters is that when they are logged onto systems like CIS-Net (an internet-based network for sharing musical works information between authors’ societies) they become derivative names of the national anthem.

When money is earned from the anthem, these are the versions that get paid for – in lucrative foreign currency.

CIS-Net represents 40 million songs logged by 225 music collection societies in every corner of the globe.

R100 million is a modest estimate of what the anthem earns around the world when, in the course of a year, it is played on radio or TV or performed live.

Sports – any competitive national event, from fly-fishing to a rugby test match – earns the big bucks for collection societies.

An anthem played before a match must be paid for by the venue or promoter, as well as by the many radio and TV stations broadcasting the event.

It is standard global practice for venues, facilities and promoters to have licensing deals with their country’s music rights collection societies and to pay a blanket fee for music played at an event.

This is based on a percentage of their ticket sales.

At a major match in Europe, for example, the anthem could gather in excess of R100 000 for just one play.

In addition to this murky network, open to manipulation by music publishers, CIS-Net data also reveals an insidious scam using Sontonga’s name.

Despite his work being in the public domain, he is listed as not belonging to any music society, but has shares assigned to him. It is thus presumed that “his money” reverts to collection societies.

Nozipho Mngomezulu, a leading intellectual property lawyer with Webber Wentzel, this week said: “I understand government’s position. I think it will be a sad day when a national anthem is restricted. It should not, however, be able to be claimed by others. This should be looked into.”

International copyright law specialist Graeme Gilfillan of Nisa Online said: “This is a new digital age and it’s naïve to think that it’s not going to make money out there.”

Medupe admitted that “monitoring mechanisms are not in place” and that “there is a need to build capacity in this regard”.

National Anthem Rip-Off

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