The Song Lives On

The recent amendment to the Copyright Act will help ensure that music lyricists,composers and songwriters get their dues by retaining the license of their work

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | New Delhi | Published:June 8, 2012 3:11 am

The recent amendment to the Copyright Act will help ensure that music lyricists,composers and songwriters get their dues by retaining the license of their work

He introduced Kishore Kumar to the world as a singer and composed music for films such as Tansen,Ziddi and Mahal to become one of the biggest names in Hindi film music of the ’40s. Yet,Khemchand Prakash’s wife,was found begging at a railway station in Mumbai,many years after his death. Writer Javed Akhtar highlighted this in his speech to the Rajya Sabha last month,while demanding an amendment to the Copyright Act 1957 in favour of writers and music composers of film music.

The resulting amendment made to the Copyright Act and passed by Rajya Sabha last month,is being hailed as a victory for families of musicians such as Prakash and others like OP Nayyar who spent his last days in penury.

The amendment no longer allows the songwriter and music composer to reassign their rights to royalty — except to an heir or a copyright society — when a song is used in a medium other than theatrical. This is important because earlier,music composers and lyricists would mostly give up their rights to royalty in favour of the producer at the contractual stage of projects. “The practice worldwide is that composers and lyricists retain the license to their work whereas in India,their rights were being sold off to the producers,” says Shankar Mahadevan,a singer and composer.

The few established artistes who insisted on retaining these rights,such as AR Rahman,were asked to take a large cut on their regular fee in exchange. Vishal-Shekhar did the same for Shanghai.

Documentary filmmaker Paromita Vohra says the amendment comes as a welcome change. “Why should the man with money have all the rights on the creatives,as if the artistes don’t count?” says the filmmaker whose documentary Partners In Crime explores the subject.

Neeraj Kalyan,President,T-Series,however,believes that the law should allow an artiste to reassign their rights to royalty if they will to do so because it may come handy. But Mahadevan says that such a provision will only allow the earlier circumstances to prevail.

Outside of the classic filmmaking system across the country,rights of artistes are respected. “I have royalty rights to all my work,” Vohra says. However,lawyer Ameet Naik,managing partner,Naik Naik and Co,says it is important to note that the Amendment does not alter the status of a composer or lyricist from that of an artiste hired on contract to that of an owner. “Section 17 (b) provides that the producer is the first owner of copyright in the film and Section 17 (c) provides for the producer to engage the author under contract-of-service. The proviso therefore distinguishes between “ownership” and “authorship” and protects “the right” of authors to collect royalty but the producer continues to be the first owner with respect to the work incorporated in the film,” he explains.

But Vohra believes that the acknowledgment of artistes’ rights by the law is a landmark achievement in itself. “It shows a change in the way society thinks and treats its arts,” she says.

Another clause in the amendment has extended the time period from two to five years,after which remixes and covers are legally allowed . “Mash-ups or creative ways of using existing music should not be entirely criminalised. The government has done this to curb piracy but they need to differentiate between creative use of music and illegal remixes,” Vohra says.

If film producers are opposed to the idea of losing the rights to royalty on behalf of the artistes,they are clearly not vocal about it since it would make their motives look questionable. However,there is a chance that artistes may be asked to take a pay cut to compensate in exchange of long-term benefit. “It remains to be seen if the composers and lyricists will stand together and fight it out or buckle under the pressure,” says Akhtar. Kalyan,however,says filmmakers have not objected to the rightful share of the authors at all. “We are committed to work out a win-win model for the authors,ensuring that their work is protected and monetised so that the authors receive royalties during the life span of the rights.”

Kalyan also believes that at a larger level,music companies got a raw deal. The amendment made in Section 31D which deals with Statutory Licensing for broadcasting of literary works,musical works and sound recordings,takes away the content owners’ freedom to trade.

Naik empathises with music companies but feels that in the long run,the amendment is a profitable proposition. “The Statutory Licensing makes licensing compulsory,but it also assigns copyright bodies who will mediate the deals. What we need are more such copyright bodies that will work in the best interests of both concerned parties,” he explains.

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