| 17 Jun 2024
Singers find their voice in the royalty issue after 5 years of strong fight

MUMBAI: What seems like a victory for a 5-year-old battle is actually an age-old issue in the Indian Music Industry. The issue of singers getting royalty for their songs was raised and fought persistently by the nightingale of India, Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar. The fight finally had a small but unmissable victory, when Indian Singers’ Rights Association (ISRA), collected 51 lakhs recently and distributed among the singers. A meager amount, in an industry being valued for millions, however, it is a step in positive direction.

Lata Mangeshkar had raised this issue way back in 60’s and even took up cudgels with legendary Mohd Rafi for the same, as latter didn’t agree with getting royalty. A result of this fight was fans’ deprivation of duet songs sung by them for more than two years.

While the singers kept raising their voices time and again, in 2012 however, the fight caught steam, as there was an amendment in the copyright act and subsequently an organisation was formed under the name of ISRA to protect the rights of playback singers. The demand was simple: Just as producers, music labels and composers get royalty for their songs; singers should also get their due.

A couple of years ago, it took mere one open letter by singing sensation Taylor Swift, to make Apple Music consider and bring to act this demand. In India, however, just like every other thing, it took years together.

The common feeling among the singers is that, more than the money; it is feeling of being recognized that is making them happy. A song is owned as much by the singer, as it is by the composer or lead actors. Unfortunately, the songs in India are referred mostly on the basis of whom they are pictured on. With an active organisation protecting the rights, and top line playback singers being the face of the battle has certainly been fruitful. In 2015, topmost singers like Sonu Nigam, Anup Jalota, Alka Yagnik had a meeting with the then Information and Broadcast minister Arun Jaitley, to speed up the process.

The organisation collects money and distributes it to the deserving singer. However, registration of the singer with organisation is a must. If in case, royalty is collected for a non-registered member, the amount stays intact for three years. If even after three years, the singer is not registered, the funds are directed to the welfare of the organisation.

The well-structured organisation is led by known names like Anup Jalota and is co-founded by Sanjay Tandon. With over 290 members, the organisation aims to work towards welfare of the singers and looks forward to registering every singer.

Sanjay Tandon explains, “We are happy to be able to complete the first cycle. What makes me happier is that the users have happily participated. All the gyms-Gold, Talwalkars, all of them have given their share. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as we have bigger players to fight with like the apps, television, radio and many more.”

The transparent organisation has 21 tariff plans and includes gyms, restaurants and amusement parks. It also includes families of deceased singers and due royalty to be paid to them.

Sanjay Tandon adds, “Of the 51 lakhs collected, 42 lakhs were from restaurants and 9 lakhs from gyms. It’s a small but definite step.”

The evergreen singer Sonu Nigam too, shared his thoughts, “It’s a win for the entire fraternity. I am glad that it’s finally happening. What people don’t understand is that out fight was never with music labels. Unless it is not mentioned in the contract, the labels are not liable to pay us royalty. Our struggle is and was with the end consumers like event managers, gym and restaurant owners. What we were asking is according to the Performers’ Law and nothing above that. Also, people must remember that the song belongs as much to the singer as it does to composer or producers. Initially, the singers had to struggle with the producers and event managers, for this generation the struggle is that and beyond that too, as we have gyms, restaurants, elevators and everywhere, where our songs are played.”

As per the law, the ratio is 80:20, which means the money collected should be distributed 80 per cent to the singer and 20 per cent to ISRA for its development. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg, and there is a long way to go, but now there is action supporting hope. I will give a fair chance to these big players, or else we are ready to take them head-on. We are financially as equipped as these biggies, considering we get just the 20 per cent of the money collected for organisation’s welfare, which is usually utilised for the upkeep and maintenance of the organisation. But still, we will fight for what is rightfully ours,” affirmatively said the co-founder, Sanjay Tandon.