Sosela’s one-stop-legal-shop for the arts

In the arts world people still sign bad contracts, careers end prematurely and artists continue to die on a financial deficit. To address these and other problems, lawyers Nothando Migogo, Matodzi Ramashia and Andrew Curnow have joined forces to form Sosela.

Sosela is not a law firm. Instead the partners religiously refer to it as a “consulting firm” because the services they offer stretch beyond matters related to the legislation that affects arts and culture practitioners.

Some of the services are contract drafting and reviewing; due diligence assessments; market research, consultation on trademarks and copyright matters, music supervision, facilitating the acquisition of rights and project management. “That was one of the rationales around us not registering as a firm. By positioning ourselves this way we are able to give holistic solutions to our clients,” adds Curnow.

The end goal is to ensure that their clients’ creative trajectory is sustainable, including financially.

While all three partners are lawyers, it’s their respective, specialised career paths that have come together to form a hybrid firm.

Over the past 10 years Migogo has led a number of copyright licensing organisations in the arts and culture space. From 2009 to 2013 she was the managing director of the Dramatic, Artistic and Literary Rights Organisation (Dalro). In 2014 she became the founding chief executive of the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association (Capasso), which collects and distributes royalties from digital sales, television broadcasts and when CDs are pressed. She was the president of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers’ African executive committee from 2017 to 2019. Shortly after taking up the presidential seat, she was appointed the chief executive of the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro).

Curnow’s path to Sosela was quite different. Until early 2014, he was a partner at law firm, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, working in the corporate and commercial department. He then went on to co-found the experimental recording imprint, Mushroom Hour Half Hour, which gave us the pop-up radio show Ithuba Sessions, Thabang Tabane’s solo debut album Matjale and, most recently, the one-take improvised album Spaza. Through Mushroom Hour Half Hour Curnow began his work as a record producer, entertainment lawyer and strategist.

Ramashia was also a corporate and commercial lawyer. In 2013 he became a senior associate at Werksmans Attorneys , but he left in 2016 to start his own law firm. Rams Incorporate assisted practitioners in the arts regarding recording and publishing contracts, as well as negotiating endorsements and sponsorship opportunities.

The work that Sosela does coexists with that of organisations such as Darlo, Samro and Capasso, which handle collection management and act as administrators of copyright. They are the conduits between copyright owners and copyright users, ensuring that the texts — music, photographs, literary works and the like — are available and paid for. While the collection management organisations do their thing, Sosela is positioning their client’s copyright “in such a way that it earns royalties for the longest possible time”, says Migogo.

Sosela’s services are available to everyone who forms a part of the “value chain” of artistic work such as musicians, authors, fine artists, galleries, record labels, film production houses, publishers, talent managers, filmmakers, playwrights, advertising agencies and more.

This is not an attempt at positioning Sosela as the arts and culture sector’s saving grace. Practitioners in the sector have other options — but they are not found under one roof.

Ramashia says that “of the few who specialise [in entertainment law], a lot of them are, historically, white and act for major entities”.

The team adds that practitioners who consult lawyers could, for a number of reasons, still end up signing contracts that aren’t in their favour. First, these lawyers may work for the value chain’s big players and it would be a conflict of interest for them to represent or advise artists signing contracts with these companies. Second, a client is not obliged to follow the lawyer’s advice and may be influenced not to.

“Normally you would go to a lawyer and they would just look at your contracts, give you advice, bill you and you move on,” says Migogo.

Curnow says that the intensive training and experience in contract drafting and negotiating that Ramashia and he received when working as corporate lawyers (at some of South Africa best business law firms) has assisted them greatly in their transition to entertainment lawyers, given that contracts around copyright form the basis of the entertainment industry.

Seeking legal and strategic advice can be intimidating for an arts practitioner, because of the barriers created by the paperwork, the jargon and working with people outside the arts and culture sector. “We come from the same community as our clients, we know where they’re coming from so it’s less alienating and prescriptive,” Curnow says.

Sosela operates with a pan-African outlook to address how divided the arts and culture sectors of the various countries are.

Matodzi explains how, in addition to acting as a gateway when an artist wants to do business in South Africa, Sosela is also building relationships with lawyers from other parts of the continent to create a conversation that will hopefully lead to the implementation of laws that make it easier for artists to survive off their practice across Africa.

With the Copyright Amendment Bill looming over artists’ heads, the South African Guild of Actors’ call for a Performers Protection Amendment Bill and several artists (in contemporary art and music) deciding to operate independent of galleries and record labels, there’s never been a greater time for a firm of Sosela’s kind to be on the come up.

It takes a lot to move from well-established law firms and organisations that have the financial means and support staff to make the job easier. By focusing their energy on Sosela, Migogo, Ramashia and Curnow have had to take salary cuts and rely on each other for the company’s administration and all the other functions.

This is followed by a round of hopeful sighs and Migogo assures herself and her partners about how important this work is to them. “The [arts and culture] industry is not in a healthy state. It needs a lot of work and we have to at least do some of it.”

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