Pay Rs 20k for online live performance: IPRS’s new tariffs leave artists in a fix

The Indian Performing Rights Society, however, has said that it will look into the matter and revise the tariffs.
A person with a guitar on stage
A person with a guitar on stage
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The Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS), a copyrighting organisation, recently came out with a notification about charging tariffs for online live performances of material that is copyrighted with them. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has confined everyone to their homes and practically brought the performance industry to a standstill, many artists have taken to the online space – such as virtual concerts or even Instagram and Facebook lives – to continue performing; and not all of them are monetised. However, IPRS’s tariffs mean that artists may have to start paying to perform live online, when they aren’t making as much money.

According to the notification, the tariffs apply to “public performance of live streaming of online events of music (musical & literary works) by way of live performance, or music videos and disc jockey (sound recording).” The tariffs start from Rs 20,000, and can go up to Rs 1 lakh. Further, non-compliance can attract a penalty of 30% over the existing tariff, as per the discretion of IPRS.

This has raised several questions for artists, including to whom this applies, who has to pay the fee, and the exorbitant rates. Regulation in such a manner in the online space is also new in India, which is adding to the challenges.

While the notification states that the tariffs are applicable from July 1, 2020, the document also says that it is “subject to approval by the members of the General Meeting”. What’s adding to the uncertainty is that there could be another commencement date. Prasad Shetty, head of licensing at IPRS, told TNM that all notifications by the IPRS are put in effect 60 later, i.e. September 1, 2020.

Whom do these regulations apply to?

One of the foremost questions music artists have now is whether these tariffs apply to them. TNM spoke to musicians as well as a lawyer to understand the issue.

Geeth Vaz, an artist manager and musician in Bengaluru, explains that IPRS is a society that includes many composers, lyricists, publishers and music labels as members. Membership is voluntary, not mandatory. “So, if you have signed with a label as a musician and the label is a member of IPRS, your music is indirectly licensed under IPRS as well, even if you are not a member. So now musicians need to be aware of these things in their contracts,” he says.

Further, these royalties that the IPRS wants to collect now in the online space are generally paid by organisers. In the online space in the coronavirus-affected world, the issue is that while there are some companies organising virtual concerts, many artists are doing lives on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram themselves. That effectively makes them the organisers.

Royalties are collected so that an artist is able to continue making money for their music which they have licensed. “The problem with the online space is that if an artist is doing a live online performance themselves and is liable to this tariff, who are they paying for? Themselves? How much money will come back to them? These are questions we don’t yet have answers to,” says Sandhya Surendran, founder and counsel of Lexic, a legal and business consultancy for the tech and entertainment industries.

So, while these regulations may not apply to someone composing their own music, lyrics and doing a livestream if they are not licensed with IPRS, it will affect people livestreaming covers of existing songs that are licensed under IPRS, people live streaming their own songs licensed either by them or their labels/distributors under the Society, DJs who use licensed tracks for mixing during a live, and organisers conducting concerts with artists whose music is licensed under IPRS, or who will be performing licensed music.

These tariffs may also not apply to pre-recorded videos of songs and covers, Sandhya says, as the notification just talks about live streamed online events. “For covering other licensed music online, there are other rules and royalties that can apply,” she says. There is lack of clarity on whether these tariffs will apply to pre-recorded concerts or performances with licensed music streamed live, she adds. 

Steep tariffs

Abhishek, Kochi-based founder and one half of the Agostories Project duo, which makes mixed genre music, says that he does not yet have clarity on which of his songs he will be able to play live online now. “We had an EP (Extended Play record) which was released through a distributor that may be under the IPRS. We will have to find that out now. Until this point, artists online were not paying royalties for covers etc. The intent behind what IPRS has done is good, but I don’t know how the tariffs have been arrived at. I am certainly not in a position to pay Rs 20,000 per live performance, and that too for my own songs. I don’t know how much of that money I am going to get back.”

Geeth and Sandhya agree that the IPRS’s exercise to collect royalties for their members who have licenses is a step in the right direction, but the lack of transparency and clarity as to how they arrived at the Rs 20,000 minimum figure is unsettling.

“Perhaps they have decided these tariffs with singers in the Bollywood industry in mind. But indie artists can’t afford to pay so much,” Abhishek adds.

Sandhya points out that there is also confusion regarding live performances on Instagram and its parent company Facebook now, because the latter has entered into an agreement with IPRS. Facebook users will not be allowed to choose music from IPRS’s repertoire to add to their own videos on Facebook and Instagram. “Would that include artists livestreaming covers or singing IPRS-licenced music as well? We don’t know,” Sandhya says.

Could discourage people from registering

Artists TNM spoke to also worry that the steep tariffs, which are mostly paid by organisers, may discourage people from registering with IPRS altogether. “If the organisers feel that the tariffs are too high, they may refuse to take on artists for online shows who will be performing licensed music. In the long run, it could affect royalties, licensing, and income for artists even further,” Sandhya says.

When asked about these concerns, Prasad Shetty said that they are aware of the resentment within the artist community and are trying to resolve the issue. “We are trying to resolve the matter internally, and may also revise the tariffs. We will have a webinar to address these concerns on Sunday,” he told TNM. 

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