Ilaiyaraaja makes karaoke app Smule remove songs, budding singers upset at copyright war

Earlier, playback singer SPB was sent a notice asking him not to sing Ilaiyaraaja’s songs without his consent.
Ilaiyaraaja makes karaoke app Smule remove songs, budding singers upset at copyright war
Ilaiyaraaja makes karaoke app Smule remove songs, budding singers upset at copyright war
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It’s not just playback singers like SP Balasubrahmanyam and Chithra who can no longer perform songs composed by Ilaiyaraaja but also amateurs. 

Smule, an app that allows users to sing Karaoke, has removed most of Ilaiyaraaja’s songs from its database. This after the music composer claimed copyright infringement by Smule for not seeking prior permission for his tunes.  

Smule allows users to use the app for free. But if users want unlimited access to songs or want to sing solo, duet or in a group, they are asked to pay a monthly amount of Rs 110 or Rs 1,100 for a year.

‘Minting money at expense of composer’

Speaking to TNM, E Pradeep Kumar, Ilaiyaraaja’s copyrights consultant explains, “There is a performance rights which goes to the composer. All the rights rest with the composer. They have not taken any permission or told us anything about usage, so we have asked them to remove it.”

Accusing the app makers of minting money at the expense of the music composer, who has devoted 35 years in making music, Pradeep says, “Smule is a chargeable site. They are minting money like anything. India is a big market for them compared to other countries.”

Ilaiyaraaja’s legal team had used the same argument in March when it issued legal notices to singers SPB, Chithra and Charan for performing his compositions. Pointing out that the composer had the right to all his songs, Pradeep had then argued that SPB and others not only had to seek permission to sing his compositions, but also had to pay up a royalty fee. He had then pointed out that they were only targeting those who were earning lakhs of rupees using Ilaiyaraaja’s creations.   

As a result, SPB, who was on his SPB50 world tour, chose to drop Ilaiyaraaja’s classics in his performances.

‘Not stopping fans from singing’

Pradeep, however, insists that the decision to ask Smule to remove Ilaiyaraaja’s songs from its app, is not a move against budding singers. “We are not here to stop somebody, we are against people who are using the songs commercially without permission,” reiterates Ilaiyaraaja’s consultant.

He clarified that if Smule is ready to provide the content for free, the composer would also be ready to give it for free. “We have never stopped fans from using the songs. We are not against entertaining people but when you are using someone else’s content at least take permission,” he emphasises.

But budding singers like Vimal Vijayan refuse to accept Ilaiyaraaja’s argument. “Smule is a platform for a budding singer, it is a platform to express our passion, nobody is going to take out songs from there and sell it. Such platforms should not have copyright issues because here people express their hobbies,” says Vimal, an Assistant Director.

Pointing out that it was disappointing to see many of the songs that he and his friends had sung on Smule taken down, he says, “It was disappointing to see the songs have been removed as every song is an effort put in. The song may be 5 minutes long but there is so much time spent on it. A lot of effort goes into it, it might take half an hour to an hour to make a song.”

Vimal also says that there are many Ilaiyaraaja fans who choose to sing only the maestro’s songs and this should not be viewed as copyright infringement by his team as it hasn’t been uploaded by Smule.

‘Waiting for Smule’s response’

Last week, an email was sent to Smule from Ilaiyaraaja. Pradeep points out, “We want to know what permission they have. It is an international app, everyone knows it. We cannot go and do this in their country without any permission. When it comes to India, everyone takes advantage. In the US, you cannot use songs of any other artist without permission, they will sue for millions.”  

He added that until now they have not filed a case against Smule and are waiting for a response from the company.

He also noted that they have sent similar emails to many other companies who are using the songs commercially without obtaining permission.

Over the years, Ilaiyaraaja has taken legal action against anyone who has used his songs for commercial purposes without seeking prior permission. In 2015, the 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 days were valid only for five years. Since they were not renewed and no royalties have been paid, all agreements stand void,” Ilaiyaraaja had said in 2015. 

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