In less than two weeks, the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) will hold its annual general meeting, with many grievances by local artists over the payment of royalties still unresolved.
Since 1994, artists have been accusing Samro of not correctly administering their performing rights. Composer, author and singer Eugene Mthethwa is not ready to give up that fight. The Trompies legend is one of the artists who have been fighting for artists to get what is due to them.
Since discovering in 2017 that most of his work had been incorrectly registered, he has been trying to get Samro to rectify that and pay him the royalties he is due.
Mthethwa claimed he discovered that most of the popular songs he contributed to – as a composer, author or co-author – have been listed more than three times in the members’ portal as “documented, undocumented and new”.
He said this confusion resulted in his receipt of less in royalty payments – or nothing at all. This led him to enlist the services of lawyers to write letters of demand to Samro after he got nowhere by writing to them himself.
“The first registration which is documented has the correct credits. The second one is registered as ‘undocumented’ while the third is registered as ‘new’. But in all these shenanigans, Samro’s name as a shareholder remains,” said Mthethwa.
He believes that this confusion was designed to disadvantage artists because no one can claim money for royalties for undocumented or new listings when they try to collect royalties from broadcasters.
“Members are not earning money from undocumented or new registrations,” claimed Mthethwa.
He said he had engaged many Samro leaders – past and present – for many years, but without any joy. In September last year, Mthethwa’s lawyers wrote to Samro, demanding that the organisation rectify the registration errors.
“Given Samro’s apparent failure to continuously and accurately update its database with my client’s work, and so as to reflect my client’s shares in various works in which he is an author or co-author, I place it on record that any attempt by Samro to raise prescription in respect of my client’s claim will be vigorously opposed.
“In this regard, I place it on record that Samro deviated from the strict application of prescription post-1994,” reads the letter from ED van Schalkwyk Attorneys, which City Press has seen.
“Samro is required to investigate and report on the royalty payment history in respect of all the works in which my client is the author or co-author, and in which my client and/or his music publisher had notified such rights and shares to Samro. My inquiry must extend back to the time my client became a member of Samro, alternatively, as far back as Samro records are intact.” But despite the letter, Samro never rectified the errors, forcing Mthethwa to take the fight to another level.
On Tuesday, he wrote to Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel, complaining about three royalty collecting organisations – the SA Music Performance Rights Association, the SA Music Rights Organisation and the Composer, Authors and Publishers Association – that are failing musicians.
“I write to you in a very desperate situation. I am one of thousands of artists/composers who have been dealt a blow by the companies registered under your department and are failing so many of us, especially in this time of need due to Covid-19 disruptions,” he wrote.
“Three years ago, we were made to believe that the department would be auditing these companies, but, instead, a few months ago, we saw through media that the only company owned and managed by black people [Impra] was subjected to this audit. As a result, its licence was suspended while all others are not investigated for the same sins committed by Impra.
“This unfortunately leaves us, the duly owed beneficiaries, with no earnings and in dire poverty, losing our homes, cars, not able to pay our children’s school fees and electricity bills.”
After being sent from pillar to post, on Friday City Press was informed that there was no one at Samro to respond to our queries.