IP lawyers and those in the music industry speak to TNM about the impact of the Ilaiyaraaja royalty row.

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Flix Copyright Tuesday, December 04, 2018 - 11:23

Music composer Ilaiyaraaja demanding royalty for his songs has opened a Pandora's box of issues. While some claim that this is a good move, others like Lakshman from the famed Lakshman Sruthi music school have slammed the move.

The issue came out in the open in 2017 when Ilaiyaaraja sent a legal notice to singer SP Balasubrahmanyam when the latter was in the United States for a series of concerts.

E Pradeep Kumar, Ilaiyaraaja’s copyright consultant, defends the move calling it a fair reasoning to ask for royalty for his creation. Speaking to TNM, Pradeep says, “All brands of orchestra that perform earns at least Rs 20 lakh for one evening of musical performance. Content is their show’s hero.”

Adding that Ilaiyaraaja’s demands will not affect the general public or an ordinary fan in any way, Pradeep says that even for performances, if they are done for free, without payment, then there is no need to pay royalty. “Such troupes are ready to spend lakhs on instrumentalists, lighting, hall, acoustics and stage settings, but why not for the songs that they actually play?” he asks.

“Can I sell someone else’s stock in a trade? If I do that without the consent of the owner of that item, I am a thief right? Using Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions without giving him his rightful share is also very similar to that,” he adds.

How does royalty work?

When music tracks are composed, the music composers or the recording labels (like Sony Music, T-Series) hold the rights to the tracks. These are entrusted to the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS), a copyright society. The IPRS is in charge of issuing licenses for performing music tracks in India in return for a fee. This fee will be remitted to the owner of the copyright of the tracks as royalty.

Speaking to TNM, Rajasekhar, Regional Manager (Licensing-South) of IPRS says, “For any performance -- be it Live or recorded or even background scores -- royalty has to be paid if it is not the organisers' original work.”

Lyricists, composers and recording labels are members of the IPRS and have entrusted their property (tracks) to the society, giving it permission to collect and remit royalty to them. “Our country is a signatory in global treaties and bilateral treaties on copyrights and Intellectual Property. So based on that if foreign songs are performed here, we collect money and remit it to the respective country to which the copyright belongs. If Indian songs are performed abroad, it will be their responsibility to collect the royalty and remit it to us which we will send to the copyright owners,” he adds.

Will demand for royalty lead to more creativity?

Ilaiyaraaja’s demand for royalty has brought in many different takes on the music industry and the creative process as such.

Swapna Sundar, the Managing Director of IPDome Strategy Advisors Private Limited and a Chennai-based IP lawyer, says that this move will end up bringing in more original scores in movies.

“I think that this claim of royalty by big music composers will end up making people more creative. I mean instead of paying someone for using an old track, people will mostly prefer to work on something new,” she tells TNM. 

Nivas Prasanna, a music director who mainly works in Tamil movies, also tells TNM that the demand for royalty from the original composers will lead to more people resorting to creating their own tracks. “If you ask me, there must not be reuse of tracks at all. All tracks and scores that come out must be original. But, in unavoidable situations, royalty must be paid to the original composer and also to all those who worked in creation of the track like how it is done abroad,” he adds.

DJ Karty, a popular face in Chennai’s party scene, agrees with Swapna. Speaking to TNM, he says that as a DJ, he is slotted with the responsibility to ensure that his tracks are properly paid for.

“Whenever we perform, we make a list of songs. We download the songs from authorised portals like Beatport, which make us pay money before we download tracks. That amount includes the royalty as well. So we are covered in that aspect,” he says. He also adds that since royalty claims are becoming mainstream these days, it will lead to more people composing music, adding value to the industry.

Prayag Mehta, one of the two DJs and music producers of Lost Stories, echoes DJ Karty’s take on music played in events. “As dance music performers we mostly play western music (pop, dance etc) which we either buy from online portals or get promos sent by other artists to feature their work in our sets. Being producers and not only DJs, most of the sets we perform include our original compositions which do not require any permissions or licenses as we hold 100% rights,” he tells TNM. He also adds that in case they want to feature tracks of others -- composers and also from Soundcloud -- they approach the copyright owner to use the track in their sets.

Will making royalty demands mainstream lead to formalising of film music industry?

Swapna says that music directors demanding royalty is a sign that the music industry is formalising.

“Till recently, it was arbitrary and informal but now that a lot of technicians are being roped in to work on Indian movies, this will help to formalise the creative products that emerge,” Swapna says. She also adds that legally, singers and the lyricists too can ask for royalty from their work if the terms are included in their contracts, just like how music composers and producers are demanding it.

“The law shapes up in the manner the society is laid out at that point in time. I think the producers enjoy a lot of power in a traditional filmmaking setup. So the law evolved in a way that gave producers more power. Another thing is that the singer and the lyricist is paid up at the time of making the movie. Their contracts generally leave them out when it comes to royalty. I think that the power structure in the industry does not give this liberty for the singers and the lyricists,” she adds.

Commenting on royalty exemption granted to wedding bands, Swapna says that the objective of the audience is a major deciding factor in royalty demands. “The amount that they charge is very small when compared to what established singers charge for shows. Also, there is this aspect of who the audience is coming for. I am pretty sure that people attending weddings are not there to watch or listen to the band. This is not the case with ticketed concerts,” she adds.

Nivas adds that the issue of royalty payment for each track is a step in making India at par with other countries when it comes to Intellectual Property.

“In most other countries, as far as I know, royalty is being paid to the creators for every small usage. Now that this is becoming mainstream in our country, it is a definite attempt to make things uniform across the world in relation to music and background scores,” he says.

He also hopes that in the coming years, all those who work in shaping the track -- technicians, lyricists etc -- will also get a share in the royalty.

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