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Collecting societies and the Copyright Act

2nd May 2013

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If you’ve written a piece of music or lyrics for a song, or if you are an artist performing a song, or a record company making sound recordings, chances are you are the owner of certain rights (copyright) which subsist in these works in terms of the Copyright Act and royalties may be due to you whenever the work is copied, adapted or played in public.

But how do you go about administering these rights (i.e. giving persons who wish to reproduce or perform these works the necessary authority to do so) and collecting any royalties due to you?

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As an artist, you want your music to be played as much as possible in order to get exposure and promote your work.  Each time your music is broadcast by, for instance, one of several radio stations, the station requires a licence from you to do so and is also required to pay a royalty fee.  If a separate transaction had to be concluded for each song, of which the composer, singer and songwriter are all different (i.e. three different copyright owners), it would be an incredibly time consuming and costly task.  In addition, how would artists possibly police all radio stations, television stations, dance clubs, restaurants, shopping centres and other businesses which play music to the public each day? 

This is where the collective administration of these types of rights comes in.  Collecting societies exist to administer the copyright in these types of works by negotiating licences (and thereby also assist in the protection of copyright) and collecting and distributing royalties to the owners of the copyright.  It makes economic and administrative sense from both the copyright owners’ side as well as the institutions wishing to make use of these works.

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A collecting society may require that certain rights be assigned to it.  What this means is that the collecting society then becomes the copyright owner which entitles it to issue the required licences to music users.  This is often done by way of so-called “blanket licences”.  A blanket licence grants a music user access to the entire repertoire of the collecting society.  An agreement will be concluded between the collecting society and its members regarding the collection and distribution of royalties which accrue due to such licensing of the music.

The principle of collecting societies administering these rights on behalf of copyright owners are recognised worldwide and South Africa is no different.

By Werina Griffiths, partner Adams & Adams

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