Woolworths in talks to settle 'royalty music' debacle with Sampra

11 March 2020 - 06:00
By Masego Seemela
Rapper Nomuzi 'Moozlie' Mabena and other musicians urged Woolies to continue to play their music.
Image: Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape Rapper Nomuzi 'Moozlie' Mabena and other musicians urged Woolies to continue to play their music.

Retail giant Woolworths is in talks with the South African Performance Rights Association (Sampra) to renew its licence to play local music in its stores.

This comes after the retailer faced major backlash from SA artists and the public after Sampra announced that, from the beginning of February, Woolworths would apparently no longer play copyright-protected music.

“We hope to relicense Woolworths by the end of this week. Woolworths have reiterated their commitment to the South African music industry,” Sampra CEO Pfanani Lishivha told TshisaLIVE.

According to chief stakeholder officer (CSO) of the association Tiyani Maluleke, the music licence Sampra had with Woolies expired at the beginning of January.

“The supplier that provides Woolies with music in their stores advised us that they would no longer be renewing their licence and would be playing royalty-free music with effect from February 1,” she told TshisaLIVE last week.

“We then advised our members (recording artists and companies) of this decision. [They] were obviously outraged.”

In a statement released on February 19, Sampra criticised Woolworths’ move and called on local artists to unite against the retailer.

The statement read: “Africa’s leading neighbouring rights collective management organisation, Sampra, calls on all South African recording artists to unite against South African-based multinational retailer Woolworths. The retailer advised this week that they will no longer make use of copyright-protected music in their respective stores.

“This effectively means that South African artists will no longer receive music royalties from the retailer. It also means that South African music will no longer be promoted in any Woolworths store.”

In the wake of outrage from artists, Tiyani told TshisaLIVE that Woolworths had contacted them to discuss the matter and that negotiations to renew the retailer's licence were under way.

However, he added: “Woolies is still currently playing royalty-free music at their stores as it would be illegal for them to use copyrighted music without a licence. Negotiations are going well and we are confident that the matter will be resolved amicably to the benefit of the South African artist.”

Lishivha said while communication between the association and Woolworths was confidential, the retailer did not dispute that its service provider had communicated that its licence would be terminated because it apparently decided to play copyright-free music in its stores.

Woolworths spokesperson Kristen Hewett insisted the retailer hadn’t discontinued playing South African music.

“We love SA music, as our many partnerships over the years have shown. In fact, we are launching another exciting local music project with The Ndlovu Youth Choir. Watch this space. We have always played South African music in our stores. Our suppliers have been negotiating with Sampra regarding licence fees for our stores and we are waiting for that to be resolved.”

Meanwhile, several local musicians said they relied on royalties to make ends meet and lashed out against any plans to stop playing local music in Woolworths stores.

Rapper Nomuzi “Moozlie” Mabena said: “Music is such an intricate part of the culture of any nation. To try to completely take [it] away from the stores is literally turning its back on the rich history that we already have and what it is becoming.”

The Kiffness' Dave Scott, a member of Sampra, said: “Obviously getting an extra passive income and revenue stream is really nice as a musician, as a lot of the bulk we receive is mostly from live shows and not a lot of musicians know that you can make money from royalties.

“So if our music is played in restaurants and retail stores like Woolworths, and those places are licensed with Sampra, we can get a payout from their licence fee.

“If Woolworths wants to keep their ‘locally proud’ brand, they need to keep their Sampra licence and support local music.”

Rapper Thabo “JR” Bogopa said: “It’s already hard to make decent returns on sales. The retailer’s decision cannot be taken lightly. It will first start with Woolies, then the rest of the companies will follow.”