Copyright in the music industry: the protection of artists' rights against exploitation in South Africa

Master Thesis


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Over the years, artists who were once the biggest selling artists in the South African music industry have been witnessed to have no financial or other resources upon their death; or when they left the record labels they were signed to, their careers faded and they had nothing to their name. There have been numerous allegations from artists about the treatment they have received from their record labels, particularly with regard to being inadequately compensated for their work and record labels not honouring the agreements they had with them. This dissertation examines how copyright law, as applied to the music industry, solves or tries to solve the problem of artists who die or live as paupers, after having been among the biggest selling artists in the country. It evaluates whether copyright law provides any mechanism to deal with the alleged exploitation that has existed for a very long time in the music industry. Understanding that the purpose of copyright protection is to incentivise authors and motivate them to create more works, the dissertation evaluates whether copyright law has any specific provisions to safeguard this purpose. The dissertation further considers the principles of contract law as a tool used to create binding agreements between artists and record labels. The dissertation argues that the contracts that artists and record labels enter into are unfair, which is as a result, amongst other things, of the imbalance of the negotiating power of the two parties.