Music director Ilaiyaraaja’s decision to send singers SP Balasubrahmanyam (SPB), Chitra and Charan legal notices over performing his compositions has taken many by surprise. While SPB took to Facebook to say that he did not get any “feelers” from the music composer when his SPB50 tour began and that he is “ignorant” of the law, many others wondered if there was more to the legal notice.
Speaking to The News Minute, Ilaiyaraaja’s copyrights consultant E Pradeep Kumar says, “People have misunderstood the issue. Ilaiyaraaja has given two press meets in the last few years telling people not to perform his songs unless they get permission from him and pay royalty. It is not anything new. SPB has created a situation where a legal notice had to be sent.”
Pradeep argues that the famed music director has devoted over 35 years of his life in composing pieces and the royalties that he deserves to receive are not being paid. He, however, adds. “We are not compelling orchestras or musicians who are surviving on Ilaiyaraaja’s music to pay up royalties. We are only concentrating on people who are earning lakhs or crores by using his creations. SPB is not doing charity shows. They are minting money and the composer doesn’t get 1 rupee. It is his work and creation.”
With Ilaiyaraaja holding the copyright to many of his songs, Pradeep observes that SPB should have taken the music director’s permission prior to commencing his SPB50 tour, which kicked off in Toronto last August. “They are friends. He could have spoken to Ilaiyaraaja and gotten rights to perform.”
He also points out that the composer never seeks a percentage of the revenue generated from the shows. “There is flexibility. We are saying you tell us how much you want to pay. You have to ask for permission and pay a royalty. But no one is willing to pay even 1 rupee. People want to utilise him free of cost,” says Ilaiyaraaja’s copyright consultant.
In 2015, the music maestro had warned radio stations and television channels of legal action if they played his songs without his consent.
“Only I hold the right to all my songs. The agreements that I signed back in the day were valid only for five years. Since they were not renewed and no royalties have been paid, all agreements stand void,” Ilaiyaraaja said in 2015. He had also gone on to say that he would share the royalties he received from these broadcasters with the film producer, singers and lyricists.
Weighing in on the legal tussle, Swaroop Mamidipudi, an advocate practicing in copyright law says, “Ilaiyaraaja is right to ask SPB for royalty, presuming he owns the musical work. The singer doesn’t have the copyright. Under law, he should get the composer’s permission, pay royalty and then perform.”
Swaroop explains that there are two copyrights – one for the musical work and another for sound recording. “When a person composes a work, he owns the piece of music. And when it is recorded, the music producer owns the recording,” he points out. When it comes to live performances, however, consent is required from the composer rather than the music label.
A singer, who wished to remain anonymous, told TNM that it is normal practice for organisers to seek permission from composers for their musical works before a concert. “Every time a concert is organised, the event organiser is supposed to take a list of songs. Also, I think every channel, when they organise a reality show, when these kids sing a song, they take a list. They pay a royalty. It’s a small fee they have to pay for all these songs and they pay. It’s the same with radio stations. They pay a certain amount to audio labels or to composers, whoever holds the copyright or Intellectual Property for the song,” the singer said.
The singer points out that unlike many music composers in India, AR Rahman owns the complete Intellectual Property to his compositions, allowing him to reproduce his musical works in different languages. But notes that music directors like AR Rahman are a rarity in India.
“The system has always been that a composer creates the tunes and gives it to the audio label, for lock, stock and perpetuity, and all these contracts come into place. A composer then isn’t in a position to reuse his own composition. It actually puts him in a disadvantage because he has signed it off to the audio label and he cannot even use his own compositions on stage. So, technically an audio label can sue a music director if he performs it on stage. Which is why you see composers like Shankar Mahadevan - even if they have sung for others, they don’t pick up those songs and sing it on stage. It is a humongous problem,” observes the singer.
Swaroop points out that in that the 1970s and the 1980s music producers would buy the musical copyright from composers. Having begun his career in the late 1970s, Ilaiyaraaja never received royalties being unaware of his rights. “It is only recently that he gained knowledge about his musical copyright,” says a source close to Ilaiyaraaja.