On 29 February 2024, the South African Music Performance Rights Association (SAMPRA) announced that it laid criminal charges against the restaurant group Life & Brand Portfolio.

Life & Brand Portfolio is the parent company of popular restaurants La Parada, Tiger’s Milk and Lucky Fish & Chips amongst others.

SAMPRA is a Collective Management Organisation (CMO) that administers Needletime Rights (also known as Neighbouring Rights) on behalf of its members, namely performers and record labels.

Needletime is the royalty that is due when a sound recording is performed or broadcast in public. A good example of a public performance or broadcast of a sound recording is when a song is played on radio, retail stores, clubs, pubs and restaurants.

It’s important to remember that there are two copyrights in a recorded song audio, namely the copyright in the sound recording and the copyright in the composition. SAMPRA is only concerned with the public performance of the sound recording.

SAMPRA should not be confused with the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO), which is concerned with the public performance of the composition.

SAMPRA licenses users of music, including broadcasters and venues that play sound recordings in public. SAMPRA then pays the licence fees over to their members in the form of royalties.

According to SAMPRA, they laid criminal charges against Life & Brand Portfolio after the restaurant group failed to pay the applicable licence fees.

Fortunately, on 7 March 2024, SAMPRA announced that they had reached a settlement with Life & Brand Portfolio. The restaurant group finally committed to signing an agreement with SAMPRA and paying the applicable licence fees. This is a speedy win for rightsholders. While the Copyright Act 98 of 1978 and the Performers Protection Act 11 of 1967 both make provision for criminal penalties for certain types of infringement, it would have been interesting to see which sections, in particular, SAMPRA relied upon to lay criminal charges.

This should serve as a stark reminder to owners of establishments that make use of music. Unless you are using royalty-free music, copyright subsists in the music played at your establishment. Familiarise yourself with all the relevant rightsholders and the CMOs represented by the said rightsholders, ensure that you are licensed with them and make provision for the applicable fees in your budget.

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