A historic milestone was achieved in the Indian copyrights regime in 2012 during the tenure of Manmohan Singh, when Parliament extensively amended the Copyright Act, 1957, by making provisions that a portion of the earnings realised by music companies and film producers from the sale of film songs and other related materials will go to a corpus fund, which will be distributed among song writers, singers and music composers. The objective was to introduce a level playing field for different stakeholders in the music, film and other creative industries, eliminating unequal treatment to lyricists and music composers of copyrighted works.
But when I recently met Lata Mangeshkar in Mumbai, I was appalled to know that she is yet to get any payment under the amended Act; it is yet to be implemented. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was present and assured Lataji that the government will implement this very soon.
Looking in-depth yields surprises. Several music companies have purchased copyrights of songs. There are more than 500 television channels in India, besides FM radio channels; every time these television or radio channels play a song, they pay these music companies who have purchased copyrights of the songs. In this way, the music companies earn hundreds of crores, from which they share a small portion with the film producers, making a huge profit from the rest. When Javed Akhtar became a Rajya Sabha Member, he took this issue to Parliament and appealed to the then-UPA government to suitably amend the copyright act so that lyricists, singers and composers can get their share and all the earnings don’t go to music companies. Javed Akhtar in fact took a vow that he wouldn’t speak in Parliament unless this legislation was passed; it was, despite stiff resistance from the music companies.
As parliamentary affairs minister, I also made an effort for the passage of the legislation and ultimately, it became a reality. The new Act brought the Indian copyright regime in sync with technological advances and prevailing international standards. But the amendments did not go down well with music companies and producers. There is the strong hand of the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) behind non-implementation of the legislation. It seems there are many music companies behind this organisation; decades ago, they got an order from a court in Barasat and are now creating hurdles in implementation under the garb of this court order. When action was initiated against these companies by the Enforcement Directorate and Economic Offences Wing, they blinked and tried to meet Javed Akhtar for a compromise. No compromise has been reached but the hope is that some formula will be devised within a month or so.
Now, the question is, will the music companies give lyricists, singers and composers their share of the money they have earned during the last three years, after the new copyright act was enacted?
Even now, songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, etc., are on our lips. They still mesmerise millions around the world. Given that, I feel even sadder to think that we failed to ensure the dues to which these artistes are genuinely entitled. Next year, the 88-year-old Lataji will complete 75 years of her singing career. She started in 1942; the first song “Aayega aane wala” that became a huge hit was recorded in 1948. She was promised Rs 400 for this song — which she is yet to get.
Back then, neither singers, nor composers were given credit rolls or awards. Lataji says giving credit rolls to singers and composers started with “Barsat ki raat” by Raj Kapoor. With time, these artistes became popular across households, often through All India Radio, Vividh Bharati and Radio Ceylon. But despite that, today, senior singers and musicians live in a pitiable condition. Shamshad Begum even died, lacking vital treatment. The eminent poet Sahir Ludhianvi lived a miserable life. After his death, his flat was sold by his housing society; his manuscripts and awards were also sold by the society to scrap dealers. Lataji lives in a simple Pedder Road flat, her furniture witness to her frugal living.
The situation has changed now. Today, singers like Mika Singh earn more than what Mohd Rafi or Mukesh got. Javed Akhtar’s battle culminated in the new copyright act.
If this act is not implemented because of hurdles created by music companies, it is erroneous. All stakeholders, including artistes, composers and broadcasters, should get their dues. Artistes should get their share from television, radio and internet broadcast too. The present government should immediately implement the act, for which it will be blessed by senior artists who have been, and are still, contributing to India’s cultural heritage.
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