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WPGM Commentary: Prospecting The Copyright Amendment Bill For South African Musicians

Change can be hard to embrace, but change is also necessary. This has been evident in South Africa when the 2017 Copyright Amendment bill was introduced to the Parliament to amend the existing Copyright Act 98 0f 1978.

The purpose of the current Copyright Act is to protect literary works, musical works, artistic works, cinematograph films, sound recordings, broadcasts, programme carrying signals, published editions, and computer programs.

However, over the years, many people felt like this act was outdated and not in line with the developments in the music industry. And this act also failed to protect the rights and life’s work of many South African musicians.

Therefore, change was necessary, and the Copyright Amendment bill is a step towards change as it aims to align copyright law with the digital era and also to root out the many abuses taking place in the South African music industry.

Here is a list of wins for musicians under the bill. It promises to enhance access to and use of copyright works while at the same time promoting the payment of royalties to ensure artists are adequately compensated for their work.

It aims to regulate the collecting societies to ensure that no artist is left at a disadvantage. By regulating the operations of collecting societies to ensure they operate more efficiently and effectively with the best interest of the artists always in mind, more artists will be encouraged to register their music with collection societies so that they may be adequately compensated for their work.

And when artists are compensated for their work, they not only are able to sustain themselves but are also able to contribute actively to the local economy as they nourish their creativity.

This proposed Copyright Amendment bill is also set to strengthen the protection of sound recordings by prohibiting anyone to use a sound recording in public without paying royalties or without a contractual agreement with the artist.

The Copyright Amendment bill also provides that anyone who contravenes the rights of an artist by playing their music without permission or without paying royalties is guilty of an offence. This offence can be imprisonment for no more than five years or a fine, or even both.

These are some of the wins that the Copyright Amendment bill promises to South African artists. However, as much as this bill has received great praise it has also been the subject to a fair amount of backlash from the public, the industry and government officials.

Highlighting that this bill will disadvantage instead of uplifting artists mainly because of the fair use provision which provides that the work of an artist can be used without its copyright being infringed if it falls under any of the following uses:

Research, study, reviews, education, preservation, public administration, and commentary, provided that certain requirements are adhered to which includes the artist being adequately referenced.

While we do not turn a blind eye on the concerns, we do however think that this bill is a necessary step into change. Over the years many artists have started speaking out about the hardships they face in the music industry and this bill is an active step towards ensuring that the artists today and those that come after are supported, protected, and valued.

This bill sparked conversations again as it forced artists, agencies, the public and even government to take a deeper look into the music industry and to participate in its growth and development.

The bill is currently still under consideration by the national assembly. But we wait patiently for the changes that it promises, and we dare to hope that all its promises will actually be realised beyond just being words on paper.

Words by Ntombizodwa Lucia Zikhali // Follow her on Instagram

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