There's a raging battle between broadcasters and musicians about needletime – the money radio stations have to pay the musicians for playing their music, writes Nicola Mawson in Busiess Day. At stake is around R1 billion.

Nicola Mawson writes in Business Day:

A RAGING battle could make a violent punk mosh-pit look like the original peaceful Woodstock hippie farm.

At stake is up to R1bn that the South African recording industry — which includes music artists and recording companies — is owed by the country’s commercial radio stations. And, says the recording industry, their collection agencies intend to go all out to collect their dues from broadcasters. Th e claim of the amount owed is denied outright by the radio stations, which are represented by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) .

Keith Lister, CEO of Sony BMG Africa and chairman of the Recording Industry of SA (Risa), says that artists and their record companies are owed the money from 2002, when the law allowing for collection of needletime royalties came into force.

Needletime royalties are what musicians and their record companies earn whenever a track of theirs is played on commercial radio stations.

Risa has more than 800 members that own, or control through exclusive licences, more than 95% of the sound recordings broadcast by local commercial radio.

Lister accuses broadcasters of dragging their feet in paying artists and recording companies. Radio stations have never paid for the rights to play the music, apart from a small composition fee, and “must pay now”. He says “it’s been delayed more than long enough” and accuses the radio stations of being “iniquitous” and of delaying the payouts through legal manoeuvring.

This battle between the recording industry and the NAB is supposed to be dealt with in the Copyright Tribunal — a legal entity that has to mediate between the two parties.

But the issue is not that simple and may even go to the high court first because the NAB wants clarity on whether the Copyright Tribunal has jurisdiction over the royalties, the date from royalties were due, whether any payments had been made in escrow, and if any other royalties were payable.

The NAB wants the tribunal to decide the royalty, but is concerned that there are other issues that the tribunal does not have the scope to decide, and has gone to the courts for a determination as to whether the tribunal has the power to decide the issues.

And this is where another player in the complicated and drawn-out battle enters the picture, namely the South African Music Performance Rights’ Association (Sampra) — Risa’s royalty collecting agency.

NAB feels that the royalty sought by Sampra is too high and, despite negotiations, the parties have been unable to agree on a royalty. The NAB says this was because Sampra has failed to indicate “on what basis the suggested needletime royalty is regarded to be an appropriate royalty”.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.