MTN signs ‘landmark’ music deal with Sony amid royalty dispute

African mobile giant MTN has signed a content distribution agreement with Sony Music that will give its customers unprecedented access to Sony’s expansive catalogue of local and international artists.

MTN and Sony Music executives sign the content distribution agreement.
MTN and Sony Music executives sign the content distribution agreement.

The deal gives MTN customers unprecedented access to caller ring back tones from Sony Music’s illustrious catalogue of both local and international artists, which includes South African artists Zonke Dikana, AKA, Kurt Darren and gospel ensemble Joyous Celebration.

Both MTN and Sony inked the agreement in Johannesburg on Thursday 11 February. The parties are currently still negotiating an extension of the deal to also include full tracks and albums.

Larry Annetts, Sales and Marketing Executive for MTN South Africa, said: “We are delighted to have signed this agreement with Sony as it gives expression to our quest to promote and develop music as an art form. The signing of this deal will further provide the customers access to our ubiquitous digital platforms thereby ensuring that artists widen their revenue streams.

“We have both agreed that Sony will administer all royalties payable to their artists directly as well as those due to the relevant collecting societies in terms of this deal. Sony, as a content provider, have vast experience in this field and are best placed to embark on this important exercise.

“We are proud of the role that we are playing in enforcing the positive change for artists,” added Annetts.

Sean Watson, Managing Director of Sony Music Entertainment Africa, said: “We’re very pleased to be working with MTN on creating another digital outlet for our artists’ recordings that meets the expectations of today’s music fans. We look forward to a great partnership in music with MTN.”

The deal is apparently the culmination of nine months of talks between MTN and Sony Music.

Good news at last?

The partnership is some good news for MTN, which in recent weeks has come under fire from the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association (CAPASSO) for failing to pay music copyright royalties to South African songwriters since 2013, as well as failing to declare music sales data. Sensing a PR nightmare, MTN moved swiftly to resolve the dispute, settling most of the outstanding debts.

The company this month also apologized and offered to compensate some of the roughly one million customers in South Africa who experienced network difficulties following a widespread technical glitch.

Elsewhere in Africa, in December 2015, the Nigerian Copyright Commission filed criminal charges against MTN Nigeria over alleged copyright infringement of musical work from an Abuja-based musician, Dovie Omenuwoma-Eniwo, also known as Baba 2010. In October 2015 MTN was fined US$5.2bn by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), later reduced to $3.9bn, for failing to disconnect five million unregistered SIM cards.  Cameroon’s anti-corruption board earlier this year alleged the mobile network owes R1.5bn (US$94 million) in taxes.

A powerful player in Africa’s growing mobile industry, the MTN Group boasts over 233 million subscribers in Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia, as well as Asia and the Middle East. Among MTN's numerous musical ventures, it sponsors the South African Music Awards (SAMAs), the Bushfire festival in Swaziland, the Project Fame talent search in West Africa and the CallerTunez Online Awards in Uganda. In October 2015 the company signed South Africa rapper Cassper Nyovest as a brand ambassador.

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