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Where credit is due

The balance of compensation needs to be righted in film and music

Written by The Indian Express | Published: February 19, 2010 1:54 am

Aamir Khan huffily walked out of the government panel debating copyright,claiming his integrity was being attacked by fellow panelists and industry peers. Apparently,Javed Akhtar had hotly contested Khan’s claim that actors were largely responsible for a film song’s success. It might be amusing to interpret the whole thing as a tangle of high-strung artistic temperaments,but much is at stake for the HRD ministry’s expert panel on copyright amendments. It seeks to correct the skew in the 53-year-old Copyright Act and update it for the digital millennium. For Khan and Akhtar,it boils down to a matter of credit and compensation.

A movie song has a complex genealogy — the lyricist and composer who blend words and music,the actors you associate with it,the producer who makes it all possible. In most cases,each of these players cedes control to the producer who gives them a fixed amount at the contract stage — though some negotiate for a share of future revenues. This means that through the film’s afterlife (on television,on radio in case of a song,through any other re-use where money can be wrung),profits flow back to the producer. If the song goes on to be a viral sensation,the songwriter and composer enjoy regard,but not remuneration. This becomes a much bigger issue in a time when technology has multiplied the possibilities — if the song becomes a big money-spinner on FM radio,then the entire chain of performers feels entitled to a share.

The proposed copyright amendments seek to allow them independent rights over their contribution and receive royalty. What’s more,establishing moral rights for performers not only establishes paternity,but also limits the perversion of an artiste’s intent. Obviously,this rearrangement of rights rubs certain producers the wrong way. This friction on the copyright panel appears to have taken a highly petty and personal turn. But no matter how Khan’s solitary auteur theory of film-making weighs the contributions of other artistes,there is no question that the balance of compensation needs to be righted.

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