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About Copyrights (Interview)


The entire controversy around the amendment to the copyright law is needless. For, the law, as some argue, is not creating for the first time royalty for music composers and songwriters in India. That provision already exists; the new bill is just meant to enforce it. We already have, since 1969, a body called the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS), which is entrusted with the task of collecting royalties for artists. Performance-rights royalty is something that belongs to performers and writers across the world, including India. But something went wrong with the Hindi film industry.

Generally, performers and writers share the royalty with the publisher, whose task is to market the music. In Hindi film music, till 1993, the publisher’s hat was worn by the film producer. In 1993, music companies entered into an agreement with the film producers where they decided to share the royalty equally. The music companies assured the producers that they would give them the money upfront; in return, the producers should see to it that when they sign on a lyricist or a composer, the artists should sign away all their rights to the song in perpetuity.

There is great irony in this. These music companies, as part of the IPRS board, are committed to sharing the royalty with the artists. Outside the IPRS, in the comfort of their offices and in their dealings with filmmakers, they force the artists to relinquish their rights to their creative work. The contradictions and the two-facedness of the situation are obvious. The music companies are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds here.

The royalty is divided like this: 50 per cent is for sound recording, which goes to the producer; 25 per cent is for publisher/producer; 12.5 per cent is for composer and 12.5 per cent for songwriter. What the composer and the songwriter are getting is a small share of the pie; and the filmmakers are unwilling to let go of even that. In between, they changed their tune and said, we would give royalty after we recovered the money. That is a specious argument. As a producer it is their duty to put money into a song or a film; they do not recover their money from my royalty. If a film recovers the money, am I sharing in its profits? No. Royalty for a songwriter/composer, in fact, has nothing to do with the fortunes of a film. For instance, the film Deewar was a hit; its songs not so much. On the other hand, the film Papa Kehte Hain, starring Jugal Hansraj, flopped, but its song Ghar se nikalte hi became a hit. Royalty comes from the success of the songs – as they get played in radio and television and get downloaded as ringtones.

The filmmakers also argue that they cannot pay a newcomer as much as they do a veteran composer/songwriter. But royalty is not an amount they pay; it is a percentage they share. And there you don’t make a distinction between a newcomer and a veteran. Also, what the producers conveniently forget to reveal is that when a song becomes popular, their 75 per cent royalty swells accordingly.

In the West, songs are typically not part of films; they come as albums. The producers’ revenue comes from the songs being played, performed and downloaded. Here the songs are part of films. The producers have an additional source of income, from the films, apart from the other usages of song. Even then, they are cribbing when asked to share the royalty.

The filmmakers have another argument. The deal between them and the performers, they contend, are a personal one. Why drag the government into it? Why should the government interfere in that? But government always interferes when two individuals who enter into an agreement are not equally empowered. The government always interferes when there is injustice in the system. That is the reason government creates laws against dowry and child labour.

Now, the whole conversation only has academic interest. In an unusual move, the Standing Committee of Parliament has passed the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2010 unanimously. There was not one note of dissension. Parliament is in one voice on the issue. It is just a matter of time now. Parliament will resume function, hopefully, in the next session and pass the bill.

(The writer is a scriptwriter and songwriter) Interview given to Charmy Harikrishnan

The Indian Express

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