| 21 Jul 2024
Yash Chopra, Ramesh Sippy, Mukesh Bhatt: 'This is the most anti-entertainment govt since independence'

It will be recalled that earlier this month, the Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by Oscar Fernandes, tabled its report before Parliament. The extremely comprehensive 118-page report's  numerous recommendations are not binding upon  Parliament or Government, but it is being seen as a remarkable victory particularly for lyricists and composers. Film producers are extremely disturbed  that the Committee has accepted both amendments to the extremely contentious amendment in the Bill. Clause 6 - Section18 Assignment of Copyright. The Committee took note of the Supreme Court verdict in the 1977 IPRS case  and has observed that the amendment proposals are merely a re-statement of the Copyright Act's Section 13(4).

This amendment will allow lyricists and composers to retain rights over the creation or work which may have been incorporated into a cinematographic work. In other words, even though the producer of the film is the first owner of the film's music when it is used as part of the film, the composer or the lyricist will be the first owner for all other purposes of commercially exploiting the music, and that the latter will not be able to waive these rights through any agreement or contract to anyone except their legal heirs or a copyright society for collection and distribution of royalties. So, with the exception of the exhibition of a film in a cinema hall, the authors would, without fail, have to receive at least 50% of the royalties in all other cases.

Film producers are alarmed, angry and perplexed at how the Parliamentary Standing Committee  examining the Copyright Amendment Bill 2010 tabled recommendations without either consulting the producers or understanding the ground realities of their business, and at the   high-handedness of recommendations that are tantamount to interference in the producers' business, and a violation of their fundamental right to conduct their business freely. Ramesh Sippy, President, Mukesh Bhatt, Vice President, and Yash Chopra, Senior Member of the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, spoke exclusively to Pavan R Chawla, Director Content and CSO and Editor Excerpts from the conversation.

Please list the guild's objections to the main points in these recommendations? And why do you object to these?

Ramesh Sippy: The most objectionable issue is that the producers' and authors' freedom-to-contract has been taken away, whereby both producers and authors can't enter into a commissioning agreement and further, a restriction has been imposed on the author's right to assign future works and royalties. Such restriction does not exist in most of the other jurisdictions including United States and United Kingdom.

As far as composers' and lyricists' right to receive royalties is concerned, we are not objecting at all. Let us understand that a film consists of several parts and several contributors, and music is one aspect of it. By contributing to the music we cannot exclude the other components that go into it all. There are so many other talented people involved in the creation of that particular work. It's not just one person, and certainly the composer and lyricist are an invaluable part of it. Similarly, so is the choreographer, cinematographer, the director, the actor. Can you imagine a song like Munni Badnam Hui without Salman in it? Without the film being a hit?  So if you claim everything according to the input, then the input also is not complete without everybody else's input -- that's our basic objection to the whole scene; not that we do not wish to share with them.

As producers, we wish to cover the cost of the music and certain other costs that go into a film. These are the recoveries for films such as theatrical, music, all the revenues that we get from television and radio, etcetera. Today, as you know, records and physical music don't sell as much. The music's all played either on a website or is downloading, or on radio or as ringtones and all these things. So these are the musical incomes available to us. We would certainly like to be sharing the income, but we wish to arrive at a more realistic and therefore acceptable percentage. A percentage that is realistic in terms of the inputs and the costs -- and in terms of the value of the input that went into creating it… in terms of both, the cost and risk of the producer. Look at the producer's risk. Everybody gets paid upfront except the producer, who is the last person to recover the monies, if and when he does at all.

So it's all about working out a formula that is fair, and you are open to discussing what the ratios should be…

Ramesh Sippy: Absolutely. The formula should be fair to everyone, and yes, we are open to discussing the ratios, but in light of the question: How do we recover the costs that making a film entails? Ninety percent of films don't recover their costs; So, hardly 10 percent of the films actually recover costs, and an even smaller, miniscule percentage actually make a lot of money.

In the market when you try to sell your music, it has value because of the film it is in, make no mistake about that; the music directors or lyricists constitute a small percentage of the value  T-Series is not going to buy music of 3 Idiots only for Swanand Kirkire or Shantanu Moitra – they bought it because it was Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Raju Hirani and Aamir Khan. All these three were extremely important for the price. If the music were to go out into the market without these three elements, the same product will have a much smaller value!  And I understand what they are trying to say -- if a song becomes a hit and 40 years later you are still hearing it, the composer and lyricist do deserve certain compensation at a later stage when they have retired from their work; I can understand that aspect of it.

Yash Chopra: The most important thing here is that they (the lyricists and composers) say we write and compose the songs but we will not assign the rights to the producer  We say we are ready to pay royalties, we are ready to pay the upfront advances against royalties. But if we don't own the right to sell those rights to monetize, then what do we have? The quantum of royalty will be decided once we sit together. Most important thing is the assignment. Whom does it belong to? Give us only one owner of everything. The question of royalty is not a serious issue. If they were to produce an album of their own written by somebody, composed by somebody, then they would be the 100 percent owners; classical, folk, bhajans, everything, they will own the 100 percent rights. But when a song is part of a film, then you cannot segregate this music from film! We have to discuss and negotiate on a fair percentage. It's our business  How can the government come into our space and say, â€?You will make them 50% owners'? Just as freedom of speech is a fundamental right in our country, so is freedom to do business.

Mukesh Bhatt: To have a contract is my fundamental right, but I am being told not to conduct my business the way I want to – this goes against my fundamental rights! The government has gone about bringing in this amendment on opinions formed by the government, and not looking into reality. How can you bring about an amendment on opinions? Opinions of you and I can differ. You can have many opinions, but the fact is only one. Without knowing the facts, they have gone ahead doing it in a hurry and without consulting the producers -- that is our major grievance. We were not taken into confidence at all. By the time we came to know, it was too late. This is our very strong grievance!

We have nothing against sharing. Any law which comes in is going to be healthy if we go beyond our respective bank balances and our life spans. Generation Next should be thankful to us that we have brought about something which is healthy for everybody. But this is only going to create chaos. The government has made a Telengana within the film industry. They have gone ahead in a very hurried way; without any understanding they have created a map, without knowing the ground reality, which is completely different from the proposed map they want to implement. That is what our very strong grievance is.

Our grievance is with the government, and not against the composers or the authors – they are asking for what they feel is their legitimate right. They have a right to ask for that. What we want to tell everybody is that we can sit down and look for a scenario in which we both can healthily co-exist and grow together. But that is only possible if the interference from the government stops.

The most important thing is that the percentage is far too high?

Ramesh Sippy: In principle we are saying yes, the industry is a larger body and we want to look after all those people who contribute, but we have to find the right formula, a win-win, so that films can survive, the industry can survive and everybody is happy. That formula has to be discussed and arrived at. We need to work out a realistic percentage. We are trying to evaluate what is the best way to work this out. We haven't arrived at a conclusion but, very soon we hope to able to do that and try and see if we can find a solution.

Are you in the discussion with the two parties at all or right now are you first deciding what your own house would like to finalize?

Ramesh Sippy: I have met Mr. Javed Akhtar and have had a couple of sessions with him, but it has not reached the stage where I think both sides are ready to sit down and actually discuss the pros and cons of what the bill is now projecting the situation to be.

So right now it's more of an amenable stance that you are working on?

Ramesh Sippy: Yes. We are all part of the same industry, so we would like to resolve all these issues within the family, and our doors are always open.

What difficulties do these recommendations entail for the business of film making?

Ramesh Sippy: At the moment we (the producers) are all at a loss! Understand, that first we brief the composer and lyricist exactly about what we want them to create as per the demands of the film, we pay them their full negotiated fee to take from them the music, then we pay for the actual cost of recording, mixing, processing, post-producing… everything. Then we go about incorporating it all in the film, we spend all that money, and we do not have the right or title to it as a complete title to use it in the market place?! So how is it going to actually work? If it is not ours, then whose is it? How do we sell it? And we are the ones who are taking all the risk!

When and how did you hear about the proposed legislation? What did Mr Sibal say when you met him?

Ramesh Sippy: It was only in January this year that we heard that such a law was being proposed. We were not even informed -- leave along consulted – about it  We only heard through some people that the law was being proposed – then Mr. Sibal was informed that we were unaware and quite upset about it  So he called everyone for a meeting. From that moment till today, we've had several meetings with several people in Government including appearing before the Select Committee, the Standing Committee, but from the recommendations that have been made, it seems that they have either not understood what we were trying to convey, or their minds were already made up about going ahead with this bill in the proposed form.

Do you think you've done everything required to make sure the powers-that-be, the standing committees, the ministry and the bureaucracy, are aware of your concerns and the reasons for them?

Mukesh Bhatt: We have done everything. We have knocked on every single door, presented papers to everyone. But we find ourselves against a wall. We feel frustrated that we are not talking to a person who is receptive to listening to us  The tragedy is that we feel marginalised. There is a shut door we are talking to. That is the pain we are going through. That is why we all feel that this is the most anti-entertainment industry Government since independence.

We feel orphaned. We feel let down  We are not asking for any favors. We are talking about principles of business. We are talking about the ethics of business. The government is going about telling us how to run our business without knowing the intricacies of the business. We are talking about nothing but our fundamental right to conduct business the way business is conducted across the world.

Ramesh Sippy: We are against them (the Govt) saying that we don't have the right to negotiate!  Why can't we negotiate each time -- whatever the contract is? If music income goes up then we can negotiate better terms for everybody involved. If it goes down, if it flops, then it should not apply in the same manner it applies as when it is succeeds, correct? So how is it possible that you take away the right to negotiate, the right to trade, and the right to do business? We don't force them to write the lyrics, compose the music! No artistic person in the world will be able to do that. So he has to do it when he is happy with the contract given to him.

Yash Chopra: When we first met Mr. Sibal, in January, I told him we would like to share – but if we make money. If we loose money then also we have to give, I don't understand this philosophy! Mr Sibal said, �Yes, you are right, you should share the profits. You may not have shared it in the past, but from today or whenever it is decided, let us give them royalty.'

Mukesh Bhatt:  And Mr Sibal told Yashji in front of me, â€?Yashji, we are talking about sharing of royalties,  but we are not talking about what percentage – that is strictly between the two of you.' (lyricists and composers, and the Producers)

Yash Chopra:  Yes, Mr Sibal said to me, The government has no right to tell your business what percentage. You negotiate.... There is no law about the amount of money that has to be paid to anyone – whether actor, cameraman, sound recordist, music director, anyone.

Ramesh Sippy: But what this law is trying to do is to say that if I feel that I can't afford the price a composer and lyricist would like – that combination of fee plus royalty -- I don't have the right to negotiate with him! This applies to each and every composer and lyricist who is going to work in the industry on the terms decided by this law.

Yash Chopra: There are hundreds of music directors and lyricists who are ready to work for a price which is negotiable because they are looking for opportunities. This is true for everyone involved in the film. How did the successful music directors of today come up? It was because some Producers took chances, invested heavily in the films and in this process gave break to many upcoming talents and then they came up – because they had talent.

What if you all have to actually make good on your promise of saying that we will make movies just with only background music, and without songs. If push comes to shove, would you do it?

Ramesh Sippy: If pushed into a corner, there will be makers who will do it exactly that. There have been a few films made without music – a very few. The culture of our films being what it is, most people will not be able to make films.

Yash Chopra:The film business is a very intricate business and if at every stage you have to ask the lyrics writer or the music director can I sell the music rights because they have the rights… and if there is a new invention of technology then they decide themselves. And what are we doing?

Mukesh Bhatt: After investing crores of rupees we have nothing in our hand. What kind of business is this?

Ramesh Sippy: It's a part of a whole, and the whole is incomplete without the rights. So we cannot deal with the whole. We cannot deal with the entire film, just because we don't have the rights of the lyrics in the music. The recommendations of the committee suggest no thought has been given to the practical side of how this business will actually operate when this becomes law. There is going to be chaos, because most of the people at least will not be able to make films with this law in its present form.

Mukesh Bhatt: It will be the death of the Bollywood kind of cinema, which was full of fun, music, dance; that kind of cinema will be over. If this law is implemented, that will be the end of Bollywood cinema. Then you will have cinema which is aping the films of the West, without the music. Where are we taking our uniqueness? We had our own uniqueness; music was an integral part of our film. Unlike west, where music is completely different from the film. You are trying to bring in the law of the West where things are completely different – the scenario in the West is completely different from the scenario here! Why can't the Government see that?

Ramesh Sippy: It is a very individualistic business --  you have seen it from time immemorial. Raj Kapoor is no longer here but his music is still heard. It was not just the composer and the lyricist; Raj Kapoor created the music along with them, he created the film! You remember the moments of the film, the song and the lyrics because of Raj Kapoor personally who was singing it on screen. So there is too much contribution from too many people when it comes to a film. It's an entity which has too many components. To say that that this becomes the part that decides how the contract will be, will be very difficult.

Mukesh Bhatt: The situation is given by the director for the song. The lyricist is  looking at the situation in the film as per the script. Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya was a situation in Mughal-e-Azam. K Asif told the lyricist to write that. That was his contribution; it has immense value; you have to understand that. When a music director presents a tune to a producer, he hears 20 tunes and selects one! I know what my contribution, what Yashji's contribution to music is because we understand music!  I know Raj Kapoor's contribution to music, I know what Rameshji's contribution is, because we understand. There is our personal touch also  Why consistently over 30 years our music has stood tall? Because there is our contribution too!  At the same time we are not taking away their contribution. But there is a contribution from the producer and the director who are also equally creative. See, we are not buying individual tracks. If the composer/lyricist had created and produced a non-film album, and we wanted to buy a track from that album then it would have been a different case. Please understand that if music was larger than the films then the non-film music industry in India would not have collapsed.

Ramesh Sippy: I can understand that if a composer and a lyricist had created a song and even if they did not record it, but went to the producer and asked him to buy that song… because he is buying a work that already exists, then they can negotiate what they like. It is not that way. This is the difference we are trying to stress upon – that we, the producers, decide what we want in our film and in a sense give them (the composer/lyricist) a contract for a work, to become part of a film. And because they are talented people we pay them a price upfront and don't mind sharing the royalties, as we have said. But it  is in the pursuance of the film; everything is in pursuance of the film  Without the film there would be no music. So how is it possible to separate every thing into compartments?  How can they become the important factors in contracts and everything? It becomes very difficult. Yes, a share in the royalty to a certain extent is something we have all agreed to in principle.

You have films like The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady… all these films or even a more recent one like Chicago – these were films based upon an existing music album, so there was a very different reason for sharing. As we say, private works belong to their composers/lyricists when they are private albums. But when it's a part of the music of the film, it should be considered as a part of the film. It cannot be considered as private. It's like saying that when a building is constructed, the architect becomes a share holder for life! 

If Government has recognized that certain royalty should be paid, we are not just open we are agreed that we have no problem sharing. But we must not lose our right to negotiate and arrive at terms that are fair and equitable according to each project.