| 19 Jul 2024
Is battle for royalties in India heading the right path?

MUMBAI: Music industry across the globe is a highly creative and industrious community, but it has its own challenges and implications. One of the biggest roadblocks of this industry is the acknowledgment of a creative persons work. However, this gets side-lined or overpowered with bigger agendas.

This is when the organizations that protect the artistes from malpractices come in picture. These are Performance Rights Organisation or PRO or in a legal language known as Copyright Collective. Functions of these organisations aren’t limited to performances only but it extends to the reproduction of any creative art. Almost every country has a separate entity, basically, to shield the artistes from anyone earning benefits on the artistes’ name and work. 

While the first of such organisation was set in the United Kingdom, centuries ago, India took its own sweet time and formed The Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) just a few decades ago, precisely in the 1940s. In fact, our Copyright Act was also framed in 1957 and recently amended. As per the Copyright Act, 50 per cent of royalty collected by music companies must be given to the authors (Lyricist) and composers.

This organisation encompasses lyricists and composers and works towards the betterment of them, and is also the sole authorized body to issue licenses permitting usage of music within India by any person. This being a non-profit organisation, the admission fees are nominal, making it easy for the budding artistes to be a part of it too.

Recently, the organisation was in news for distributing royalties worth 13 crore as a part of synchronisation royalty among 2800 musicians or authors. The amount was distributed by the incumbent chairman, Javed Akhtar, who himself is registered with the organisation as an author or commonly known as a lyricist and has been a forefront activist to have fought for this cause. Most of the big companies are a part of paying the royalties, while some big ones like Yashraj Films are still to be associated. The range of places where the royalty due song can be played varies from travel buses, coaches, to amusement parks and gyms, to restaurants and hotels to sports events or televised shows.

With Disc Jockeys, recent guidelines have been issued that certain songs can’t be played at all. This is because lot of famous DJs traveling from other countries, play old film songs, earn their buck and leave. Otherwise, usually, for DJs, it is the venue owners’ lookout to have legalities in place.  This also excludes international music, so DJs playing International music have it comparatively hassle-free.

This system could, however, turn complicated when it comes to classical music, as sometimes the compositions are composed by someone in the yore. How can someone pay Miyan Tansen for his creations, a musical piece that the musicians still perform?  Although, recordings of classical musicians sold, are still liable to pay a royalty to the artiste or the kin of deceased artiste.

PPL (Phonographic Performers Limited) holds broadcasting rights over 5 lakh songs, therefore any event or show of any nature wishes to play any song among these 5 lakh songs, has to seek permission and authorised license from PPL. Post the issuance of these documents, event manager/company/curator has to pay the royalty to PPL, which further directs the money to the respective artiste.  While organising an event, there are No Objection Certificates to be produced by event managers to validate with police. To produce these certificates, one needs not to be a member of the organisations. Post the license, the curator has to pay a pre-decided sum for playing a certain track. These documents are vital, as to book specific auditoriums or clear police verification. This gets tiring and proves to be a hurdle for event managers.

Usually, while booking a venue for a ghazal or orchestra concerts, where there is a possibility of playing pre-recorded music, a no-objection certificate from IPRS is required. It also depends if the venue is registered under IPRS. The autonomous bodies monitor every auditorium and can put it under scanner if required. Even if the event manager/company is not a member of IPRS, they can pay the amount mentioned by IPRS as royalty and play the recorded music at the show.

IPRS however, did not safeguard the rights of the singers. Considering the same, Indian Singers Rights Association was formed in 2013.  A battle on for years together, playback singers recently saw a victory with a collection of Rs 51 lakhs.

Anup Jalota, a legendary singer himself and Chairperson of ISRA, shared his thoughts, “We realised that we don’t have an organisation which is an authority or accountable for singers. That’s when I, Javed Akhtar Saheb, Sonu Nigam and many others discussed and formed this organisation. We recently collected 51 lakhs for singers, which was duly distributed among respective singers. However, singers who aren’t registered, their amount stays with us, for example, Kanika Kapoor. We have collected amount of Rs 50,000. This amount shall stay in the organisation’s account for three years, in case she doesn’t register. If even after three years she doesn’t register and claim, we will use this money for the welfare of our organisation.”

In his own words, Sanjay Tandon, also known as “The Copyright Man of India”, who co-founded ISRA said, “It is a small but definite victory. Currently, just won a battle with restaurants and gyms, but the bigger battle is with television, internet and radio.”

Anup Jalota explains, “I was a board member with Prasar Bharati for few years and even then I had mentioned that singers need to be paid for their recordings being aired on radio and TV. Now, Supreme Court and Government of India have passed the order. So now, All India Radio and Doordarshan will have to pay singers just like they pay the music companies, through Prasar Bharati. It will surely happen soon.”

The singers are content more with the acknowledgment given as creative partners for any song. Initially, they were deemed as vocal instruments and their art wasn’t recognised.

However, these organisations too, are not spared off controversies and accusations. Registration of fake members and non-payment of collected royalties to the artistes are two major issues.  Enforcement Directorate (ED), which oversees the money laundering in India. Recently many famous music labels were under the scanner for not paying the artistes their dues. Some independent artists/singers have registered official complaints against these bodies, for not receiving royalties. Most recent among them is Shubha Mudgal, who raised her voice for getting her dues.

However, apart from the hurdles and complications, being registered with these bodies would be beneficial for all the artistes and musicians, as it gives the much-needed protection from autocracies and malpractices occurring in the industry.