Last week the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association (CAPASSO) released a media statement detailing mobile giant MTN’s failure to pay music copyright royalties to songwriters since 2013.
The company, which owes R1 million for 2014 alone, had also failed to declare music sales data and earnings for 2015 to songwriters. Further, MTN has failed to enter into a music usage licence agreement with CAPASSO or its predecessor since 2010. This means that MTN has been selling unlicensed music in contravention of the Copyright Act, which requires a 3rd party such as MTN to seek permission from the owners of musical compositions before such compositions can be sold by such 3rd party.
Following media exposure of this matter, MTN last week finally invited CAPASSO to a meeting after 10 months of ignoring requests to meet with CAPASSO. In the meeting, MTN requested that the matter be resolved without further media exposure. As a consequence of the meeting, CAPASSO sent to MTN an official offer of settlement that included a request for affirmative response from MTN by 16h00 yesterday (Monday 8 February 2016).
CAPASSO CEO Nothando Migogo states: “MTN did not even respond to CAPASSO’s offer, which included a call for MTN to cease deflecting its copyright liability by alleging that its content aggregators (the companies that MTN hires to deliver music to MTN for sale to MTN subscribers), are responsible. CAPASSO seeks a commitment from MTN to acknowledge that MTN is the music storefront and as such, MTN itself is liable for the copyright use and undertakes to enter into a licence agreement with CAPASSO in that regard”.
According to CAPASSO, contentions by MTN that other bodies should rather be responsible for MTN’s copyright royalty liability cannot absolve MTN of copyright infringement because firstly, MTN does not check and ensure that the music received by it is licensed before putting it up for sale; secondly, it is MTN itself which ultimately continues to sell the unlicensed music for its own profit and gain (music sales drive data and airtime consumption and are a valuable service for the MTN brand).
“We further reject MTN’s assertion that the only reason it has not paid the 2014 invoice is ‘due to disputed claims’ (i.e. where the ownership of a song is disputed). We believe that had MTN truly intended to compensate the copyright owners as quickly as possible for music sales made in 2014, it would have paid the undisputed portion of the invoice (which amounts to 92% of the invoice) and communicated the dispute claims directly to CAPASSO” says Migogo.
Following MTN’s failure to respond to CAPASSO’s letter sent to it on Friday, CAPASSO has today instructed MTN to cease the use, sale and other exploitation of musical works owned or represented by CAPASSO members (these are known as “take-down notices”). These works must be removed from all MTN stores by Wednesday 10 February 2016.
CAPASSO represents numerous songwriters either directly, such as Tarryn Lamb, Nompumelelo Mzobe and Doctor Malinga, or through their publishers such Ghetto Ruff, Soulistic Music (Universal Music Publishers), CashTime Life (Gallo Music Publishers), Sheer Publishing and many others.