NAB opposes needletime amendments

01 November 2000

The NAB is concerned by proposed amendments to the Copyright Act that will compel broadcasters to pay needletime. Needletime is the payment of a levy to performers and producers of a piece of music. At the moment, broadcasters pay a levy to the publishers and writers of music that is played on air.

Our position is that changing the Copyright Act piecemeal will not solve the problems in the music industry and only partly improve the situation of local artists. Copyright law needs a complete overhaul, rather than ad hoc amendments tacked on to the existing Act.

The proposed changes were introduced by the Department of Trade and Industry in an attempt to improve the lot of local musicians and compensate for certain historical anomalies in the way musicians have been paid.

Broadcasters have been up in arms over the decision, since they were not represented on the task team that decided that needletime should be paid. Attorneys consulted by the NAB believe the amendments do not comprehensively deal with the issues that need to be tackled.

Arguments for the needletime amendment are that it brings South Africa in line with international treaties, and that it assists South African musicians. The NAB disagrees with both standpoints.

Our position is that some countries accept needletime, while others do not. Although South Africa has signed one international treaty that specifies the payment of needletime, that particular clause is the only one to which an exemption is allowed. A number of countries have sought, and received, an exemption to the levy.

While we accept that needletime would, on one level, assist local musicians, this is not the best solution.

Fifty percent of the levy would still be paid to record producers. And 80% of money due to musicians would flow overseas.

The NAB believes that, with the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO), the musicians, recording companies, broadcasters and government stakeholders, they could find a better way to address the grievances of musicians.

The NAB also believes that any changes to the law should be simple to apply, and should not make it prohibitive for broadcasters to play music at all.

One solution might be to direct a portion of the royalties, which are already paid to SAMRO, to musicians. Other possibilities could be the establishment of an insurance fund for musicians and possibly a levy on blank tapes.

Whatever solution is finally accepted, it should come from discussions between all industry stake-holders and should benefit the industry in South Africa as a whole. Any appropriate attempt to improve the situation of local musicians has our full support.



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