A judge has ordered Soulfest promoter John Denison to fork out over half a million dollars to Aussie music royalty distributor APRA AMCOS for infringing on the rights of its artists.
At a hearing in Sydney’s Federal Circuit Court on Tuesday (6th September), Judge Alexander Street found that Denison had “flagrantly infringed” on the Copyright Act for failing to obtain the appropriate licences for a number of Aussie festivals and concerts that he’d promoted since 2014, including now-defunct neo soul, jazz & hip-hop event, Soulfest.
As a result, he’s been ordered to cough up $437K in damages to APRA AMCOS, plus another $70K in legal costs, to make a grand total of $507K.
And though APRA AMCOS is happy with the result, they still fear it may be some time before they can start retroactively paying their artists back the cash that they’re owed.
“The court ruling is just that. A ruling,” a spokesperson for APRA AMCOS tells Music Feeds. “Now we have the battle ahead of securing the money from Mr Denison!”
“IF we succeed (and that may take some time), we will retrospectively apply the ‘shares’ to the songwriters and composers whose works were performed in the events to which the licences applies.”
Basically, any public performance of music – be that at a concert, at a nightclub, in a shop, etc – needs a licence from the music’s copyright owners. It’s APRA AMCOS’s job to grant these licenses to promoters, whose licensing fees are then collected and returned to the music’s original songwriters as royalties.
“Some 87 per cent of licence fees collected return to the songwriting and composing community, with the balance covering music grants, music development opportunities and basic administration,” the spokesperson explains.
But in the case of Soulfest and Supafest, the licensing fees were never paid.
“The promoter put on a number concerts, where our members’ songs were performed and he did not obtain the appropriate licences,” the spokesperson continues. “This is despite our numerous attempts to provide information to him on licences applying specifically to his events.”
“We think that the judgment for flagrant infringement of our members’ rights is appropriate in all the circumstances. This sends a clear and unequivocal message to other users of music who are doing so without obtaining the necessary licence.”
Mr Denison, who did not appear in court and has yet to speak publicly on the matter, continues to trade as a concert promoter under a new company named iLive Entertainment.
And Richard Mallett, Head of Revenue at APRA AMCOS, reckons he has a “history of dishonesty”.
“I read in Fairfax Media that Mr Denison has said, on record, that he’s been sued for a long time and that he is an expert at this, so I was not surprised that the Judge found that the conduct of Mr. Denison demonstrated an intentional disregard for the licensing requirements and the interests of the copyright owner, and demonstrated a level of dishonesty,” he said.
“We maintain APRA AMCOS’ members are among the most vulnerable service providers when it comes to promoters like this. Venues, caterers and artists are able to withhold their services – but songwriters’ work cannot be withheld ‘after the fact.’ Their only recourse is to trust in the courts and their membership to APRA AMCOS, to protect their rights.”
“APRA AMCOS licenses more than 6,600 one-off events annually and there are 60 major event promoters who are licensed with us. The ruling provides an assurance to these compliant businesses that there is a one-in, all-in approach to licensing.”
Soulfest 2014 saw performances from D’Angelo, Mos Def and Ngaiire, but APRA AMCOS could not comment on which specific artists may have been affected by the licensing shamozzle. However no artists would have been impacted by the 2015 event, which was cancelled at the last minute due to poor ticket sales.
Gallery: Soulfest 2014 Sydney / Photos By Liam Cameron