In what came as a surprise to SP Balasubrahmanyam (SPB) and his fans across the world, the singer announced on social media that he can no longer perform songs composed by music director Ilaiyaraaja since he received a legal notice from the composer a couple days back.
The singer is currently on his SPB50 tour which started in August in Toronto. He, along with other playback singers Chithra and Charan, performed in Russia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai and did several shows in India as well. The singer, whose association with Ilaiyaraja spans over five decades, received a legal notice saying that they were not allowed to perform the music director's compositions without his permission. Chitra and Charan received a notice as well.
In his Facebook post explaining the legal notice, SPB said, "I did not get any feelers from Shri. Raja's office at that time (when the concert began). I don't know why now when we started our US tour. I am ignorant of the law. If it is a law, so be it and I obey it."
The legal notice reportedly stated that performing the music director's songs without his permission is violating copyright laws and the singer will have to pay huge financial penalties and face legal action. SPB has sung in several movies composed by Ilaiyaraaja, including Mouna Raagam, Thalapathy and Thevar magan.
"In these circumstances, our troupe cannot perform Isaijanani's compositions from today," said SPB. "But the show should happen. By God’s grace I have sung lots of other composer's songs which we will present. Hope you all bless our concerts as usual," he said.
In the comments section, the singer further clarified that he had received no communication from the composer prior to the mail. He further added that he will responding legally to the notice. "Dear friends, I could have certainly talked to him, had he talked or sent a mail to me prior to our tour. But when I get a legal notice, either I have to respond legally, which I never want to, or, accept the law. I too have self respect. Please let us stop the futile discussion and move ahead. My intention of this information is to prepare the audience. I do not want my good friend Shri Raja inconvenienced.I do not want my sponsors and concert organizers to get hurt sentimentally and financially. Thank you," he wrote.
This is not the first time that Ilaiyaraaja has talen the legal route to claming copyright on his songs. In 2014, the composer had in fact approached the Madras High Court, which ordered an injunction against five music companies from selling his compositions without his permission. Ilaiyaraaja had also warned radio stations and television channels against using his compositions without his permission.
"Only I hold the rights on my songs. The agreements that I signed earlier will stand for only five years. Unless they have renewed the agreements, they stand void,” he said, according to The New Indian Express. He added that the royalty amount from his songs would be shared with the producer, singers, and lyricists of the film.
The issue of copyright and royalties for composers and singers has been a longstanding one in the Tamil film industry. There are murmurs of discontent now against channels and show organisers using the compositions for profits without the permission of either the composers or the singers. But even before Ilaiyaraaja raised the issue, singer Yesudas had taken exception to royalties not being paid to composers and lyricists.
“Why can't a television channel pay just 25 paise each to the composer and the lyricist of a song when they use it for their shows? There are composers and lyricists who badly need some financial support,” Yesudas told The Hindu back in 2011.
"Rather than waiting for the government to bring in a law, I feel the television channels and others who use the songs should initiate a process to offer royalty,” he had said.