Almost every artist will at some stage of their life perform or record cover songs. There seems to be some confusion among artists on what the legal position is when it comes to performing or recording covers. As a starting point, you must appreciate that a song has copyrights, and when you perform someone else’s songs, you are performing their copyrights. Our copyright laws give copyright owners two important and exclusive rights; the right to publicly perform a song and the right to make a reproduction (copy) of a song. Technically speaking, if you perform or record another person’s song without their permission, it is copyright infringement.
But fear not as there is good news, and the good news comes in the form of SAMRO and CAPASSO. You should already be aware of these organisations, if not, then please take a moment to familiarise yourself with them. SAMRO deals with the live performances of music (i.e. when you perform covers live) and CAPASSO deals with mechanical royalties (i.e. every time you record a cover song). These institutions act as type of agent for copyright owners. They provide licenses on behalf of the copyright owner to you so that you don’t have to deal directly with the copyright owners. In other words, you can now record and perform covers without having to deal directly with the owners.
So, without further delay, I have prepared an infographic to explain all the things you need to know about copyright for cover songs in South Africa. All the forms/documents indicated on the infographic can be found on SAMRO and CAPASSO’s website.