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Koos Kombuis

Where are the missing Rodriguez millions?

2013-02-27 13:06
The fairy tale has ended. The missing music legend has returned from obscurity. Rodriguez has risen from the dead. The film about his life has won an Oscar. Only one part of the puzzle remains unsolved.

What happened to the money generated by all his album sales over the years?

Until now, the old man who penned down all those incredible songs has been content to supplement his hometown handyman income with the occasional tour in South Africa, where rows filled with adoring fans probably helped bring home some much needed bacon. But the old man isn't getting any younger.

Deception and denial

A retirement annuity would be very nice. And the missing Rodriguez millions, if tracked down, could - and should - be this talented songwriter's cushion in years to come. Why carry fridges down staircases? Why carry on living in the same house? Why not move to a bigger place with a home recording studio, a "lekker" garden and a pool for his grandchildren to swim in?

Rodriguez deserves this money. That is certain. Unfortunately, that is the only certainty we have.

All the other details are as murky as the rumours, true or false, about Oscar Pistorius's mental state. We simply don't know what is going on, what has happened, or who did what to whom.

Like the financial side of music industry worldwide, the financial side of the South African music industry is a labyrinth of deception and denial.

Memories are short, the holes where stuff can disappear into are big, and sadly too many record label executives are acutely aware that the clients they work with tend to be notoriously sloppy, hopelessly idealistic, and completely impractical when it comes to managing their money.

If you can't even work out your own monthly beer budget, how would you know what people are doing with your royalties?

Shortage of copyright lawyers

Of course, it's not just the money from the album sales that is missing in this case. There are several other ways in which songwriters and singers are theoretically supposed to be able to earn their bucks: Publishing rights, mechanical royalties, money generated through airplay, etc. Most of them don't receive half of these funds simply because they don't know how to ask for it.

These are highly technical issues best handled by lawyers specialising in copyright. As things stand, we have a desperate shortage of these type of lawyers.

Off-hand, I'd guess there are about three of them in South Africa that I've heard of. Most people who study law go for the more lucrative fields such as property deals, divorce settlements, all the other sleazy stuff yuppies love to keep themselves busy with.

So my guess is that the issue of the missing Rodriguez millions is likely to become one of those dragged-out, unpleasant scenarios we have so long become used to in this country. Such as the alleged arms deal. Or the Inge Lotz murder. And even if we track down some of the missing Rodriguez millions, we will certainly never track down all of it.

In the end, all we'll be able to do is hum together in sympathy every time we hear these prophetic lyrics:

I wonder
How many times you've been had
And I wonder
How many dreams have gone bad…

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