Honest play, honest pay: The Indian music business and royalties


Here’s a maths downside starring singer Lata Mangeshkar, composer R.D. Burman, lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri, and director Prakash Mehra.

Within the winter of 1972, their track ‘Kaanta Laga’ debuted, making them X amount of cash. Then, in 2002, got here a remix, arguably some of the well-known iterations, picturing a sultry Shefali Jariwala in a black tank and braids, controversially flipping by way of a porn journal. Later, in 2016, artistes Neha Kakkar, Honey Singh and Tony Kakkar determined to “revive the get together anthem” with one more rendition. Each remix, launched by well-known music labels or unbiased homes, cashed in on the unique genius: the lyrics, the composition, the voice.

Asha Parekh in ‘Kaanta Laga’ (1972) and (proper) Shefali Jariwala within the 2002 remix

‘Kaanta Laga’ lives as a cultural sensation, however what does X signify? How a lot cash ought to the track’s authentic authors obtain? Very similar to the track, the query of music royalties is timeless. Over the past decade, lyricists and composers have tried to resolve X, combating for recognition within the courtroom of legislation and public opinion.

They not too long ago inched nearer to an answer. On April 28, the Bombay Excessive Courtroom handed a historic verdict directing FM radio stations Radio Tadka and Radio Metropolis to pay royalties to a track’s “authors” (lyricists, composers and singers) for utilizing copyrighted music — setting a authorized precedent for stations throughout India to do the identical. “The worth of radio is much higher within the music business for those who have a look at the income, and but, the radio business has been undercutting them and never paying them their dues,” says Amit Gurbaxani, a Mumbai-based music journalist.

“It is a huge victory for the musical household. We’re very grateful to the Mumbai Excessive Courtroom for recognising our efforts and laborious work behind musical creation. It is a large inspiration.”Kanukuntla Subhash ChandraboseLyricist for RRR

The judgment grants legitimacy to the rights of lyricists and composers — reaffirming that the possession of a track lies not simply with movie producers and labels, but in addition artistes who are sometimes invisibilised throughout the music business. “The judgment… is totally historic,” says singer-composer Anu Malik (assume ‘Julie Julie’ in 1987 or ‘Oonchi Hai Constructing 2.0’ in 2018). “It’s for each lyricist, each composer, who places their coronary heart and soul into creating music.”  

A decades-long authorized battle

Authors promote their creation to manufacturing homes for a one-time price, who in flip promote it to music firms. The music then takes a lifetime of its personal, streaming on radios, punctuating advertisements, beaming off cellphones as ringtones. “When rights are purchased out, solely the labels become profitable, not the people who find themselves creating the music,” Gurbaxani notes. 

“Now we have to elucidate to [people], again and again, that we’re the authors of a track, and that we’re worthy of the respect and the credit score that comes with it. It’s miserable, it’s irritating, it’s exhausting.”Varun GroverLyricist

Copyrights throughout the music business might be separated into pre- and post-2012 phases, cleaved by the passing of the Copyright (Modification) Act. The amendments had been a fruits of a authorized combat that started in 1977, led by the Indian Performing Rights Society Restricted (IPRS), a licensed copyrights collective which gathers royalties on behalf of members pan-India. It took 35 years, a number of courtroom circumstances and one authorized modification for the legislation to recognise creators’ rights: a lyricist or composer holds copyrights to their work, they’ve a proper to royalty — each time the music is performed (whether or not it’s authentic, a remix, or a rehash by way of reels or movies) — and, most importantly, this proper can’t be transferred. The association was to divide royalties 50:50 between the producers and authors.

It was historic. However historical past can also be simply disputed. Between 2012 and 2023, IPRS needed to manoeuvre authorized loopholes, and combat FM stations and producers to show that the safety granted to creators was certainly theirs to wield. The Bombay Excessive Courtroom’s judgment was the primary to recognise this.

“This judgment may turn out to be a precedent for a lot of artistes and get them the due recognition as authors of a chunk of labor, and due to this fact ensure that they earn royalty on it,” says Tatsam Mukherjee, a movie critic who has been intently following the controversy.

“That is lengthy due particularly since Indian music has reverberated internationally together with ‘Naatu Naatu’ composed by M.M. Keeravaani and authored by Kanukuntla Subhash Chandrabose,” says Javed Akhtar, poet, lyricist, screenwriter and the chairman of IPRS, in an announcement. “This forward-looking and exemplary judgement locations the creator again on the coronary heart of copyright creation which is able to function a terrific incentive for artistes, the music business and for the creation of copyright in India.”

Javed Akhtar, poet, lyricist, screenwriter and the chairman of IPRS

Javed Akhtar, poet, lyricist, screenwriter and the chairman of IPRS
| Photograph Credit score:
Getty Photos

The phrase of legislation 

The Copyright Act of 1957 doesn’t account for artistes’ rights. In 1977, the Supreme Courtroom in ‘IPRS v Jap India Movement Photos’ upheld the established order — that when an creator of any literary or inventive work indicators a contract, the copyright transfers to the producer and the creator loses any proper over their work, and by extension, royalties. 

The 2012 modification sought to right this imbalance by including two clauses and two subclauses. One in every of these said that the creator of a piece is the “first proprietor” of the copyright, and that the proper can’t be diluted even after a contract is signed. This intervention, nonetheless, didn’t carry a few decision. Producers used authorized ambiguity as an escape hatch. As an illustration, the amendments got here into impact on June 1, 2012, leaving the destiny of contracts signed earlier than that date unclear.  Ishaqzaade’s music, together with the evocative ‘Pareshaan’, is among the crowning jewels of Munir’s oeuvre, however she can not declare royalty for her songs as a result of the film was launched on Might 11, 2012. 

Efforts had been additionally made to low cost the legislation by misinterpreting a technicality. Two copyrights are generated for songs: one pertains to the sound recording, which belongs to the movie producer or music label, and the opposite to the creator for the musical and literary work. The argument went that radio stations had been utilizing already licensed sound recordings, which belonged to the producer or the label.

Give credit score the place it’s due

The April judgment is a battle received in a tough cultural and authorized warfare. “For those who’re not giving credit score to the creators, you possibly can inform there’s something actually flawed with the business,” says Gurbaxani. 

There may be advantage in introspecting the nuts and bolts of conventional hierarchies, a system constructed on limiting the diploma of management an artiste has over their work. Creative work is considered as a commodity by producers and studios, which might be “transacted” by way of contracts or “purchased out” by way of lump sum funds. Contracts are signed, then the songs are written, recorded and launched. “We begin [our career] with gifting away rights,” says lyricist and author Varun Grover, with movies akin to Udta Punjab and Badhaai Do to his title. He’s not positive at what level a track stops being his and belongs to a label as a substitute.

Lyricist and writer Varun Grover

Lyricist and author Varun Grover
| Photograph Credit score:
Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

“There was a time when Lata Mangeshkar put her foot down and demanded royalty for a track,” remembers movie critic Baradwaj Rangan. Within the Sixties, when Mangeshkar was singing duets with the likes of Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi, solely producers had been paid royalty. In an interview, she had recounted the interval as one which invisibilised singers and composers. In reality, the primary time she heard her title hooked up to a track she’d sung was for the 1969 evergreen composition ‘Aayega aanewala’; the story goes that the radio station had obtained hundreds of letters asking in regards to the singer and, finally, a line was inserted earlier than it performed: ‘This track is sung by Lata Mangeshkar.’

Extra not too long ago, in 2019, Akhtar discovered his title credited within the film PM Narendra Modi, when a remixed model of the track ‘Ishwar Allah’ that he wrote for 1947: Earth (directed by Deepa Mehta) was utilized in it. He argued that his “ethical rights” as a creator had been breached (per the 2012 amendments, copyrights current a bouquet of rights: the ethical proper to at least one’s work, the financial proper to profit from it, and the mental proper to be hooked up to it for posterity). It revived the controversy across the diploma of management a creator has over their work.

Standing at radio stations

“Out of greater than 350 non-public radio stations in India, IPRS [so far] receives royalties solely from two [Clear Media FM, Delhi, and Friends 91.9 FM, Kolkata],” says Rakesh Nigam, the CEO. In 2009, they filed a swimsuit in opposition to media homes Mathrubhumi and Malayala Manorama, which personal 94.3 Membership FM and Radio Mango respectively in Kerala. A trial courtroom dominated in opposition to IPRS. In an analogous vein, musician and composer Ilaiyaraaja fought a case in opposition to Indian Report Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in 2020. The latter claimed possession of the breadth of music Ilaiyaraaja created for 30 function movies between 1978 and 1980. However the Madras Excessive Courtroom caught to the pre-2012 norm, sustaining that solely the producer of the movie held “first possession”.

Ardour doesn’t pay

There are manufactured information gaps throughout the business about how copyrights and royalties function. “When contracts are drafted, there is no such thing as a point out of royalties. And one is somewhat unaware if they’re entitled to this compensation,” says Grover. “Lyrics writers are usually not actually conscious of royalties. We’ve been conditioned for years that solely singers and composers are entitled to them.” It wasn’t till after his first album that he registered with IPRS. 

“Within the music meals chain, writers are manner down by way of the significance given — although a track begins with the author. I hope we attain a stage the place royalties are seen not as a burden or an infringement, however a easy proper.”Kausar MunirLyricist

Within the cultural creativeness, royalties are not often situated within the context of honest pay. There’s a fallacy that writing transcends capitalism and is about ardour, a better calling. Grover remembers when ‘Jiya Tu Bihar Ke Lala’ from Gangs of Wasseypur, his very first creation, performed on the radio. “I grew up listening to the radio. For me, it was a ceremony of passage that my track was performed on it.” The query of royalties, he provides, was redundant at that second. “For a first-time lyrics author, you’re counting your blessings and being completely satisfied in regards to the publicity you’re getting by way of radio.”

However ardour and publicity can not maintain an individual. Extra so in an unorganised sector the place there aren’t any pensions or provident funds. The pandemic was a brutal reminder of this. When creators had been unable to work, IPRS distributed royalties (round ₹220 crore) from streaming and OTT platforms, as said of their Annual Transparency Report 2020-21.

In follow, royalties tether an creator’s id and craft with the work, transcending media and the instances. “There’ll come a time when your relevance might be in query, when nobody asks about you, however the royalties will proceed as a result of, as soon as upon a time, you produced work that was related, which remains to be being heard by somebody, someplace,” says lyricist Kausar Munir, of Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway, Gehraiyaan, and Rashmi Rocket fame.

Lyricist Kausar Munir

Lyricist Kausar Munir

Deal with mental property

Not like a patent in science, artwork — particularly music, which flows by way of completely different media areas — is one thing that can’t belong to at least one individual. “These legal guidelines had been created at a time when the channels of distribution had been restricted to the radio or TV. Now, completely different platforms criss-cross by way of digital alleys,” says Rangan. The Bombay Excessive Courtroom’s verdict is an occasion of the legislation taking part in catch-up with the instances. “It is a common sense not due to what it does, however due to what it brings to gentle by way of the issues of mental property in artwork. A minimum of, folks will begin speaking about [copyright and royalty] and taking it extra severely,” he provides. “It’s solely proper that it begins from the music business as a result of music is among the fast takeaways from a film.”

Observers say the business will profit from streamlining the method. In response to Rakesh Nigam, CEO of IPRS, as an unbiased musician who writes and composes their very own songs, and who isn’t registered with IPRS, there’s presently no possible method to accumulate royalties for the underlying works. 

Rakesh Nigam, CEO of IPRS

Rakesh Nigam, CEO of IPRS
| Photograph Credit score:
Akhil Raut

A way of group is crucial as a result of it fosters communication, consciousness and motion. In 2020, lyricists participated in a marketing campaign known as ‘Credit score de do yaar’, urging streaming providers to say their names subsequent to a track. The marketing campaign bought Spotify to start out displaying creators’ names. “Asking for and receiving credit score can finally lead to getting royalties,” says Gurbaxani.

We could by no means clear up X; it’s an limitless equation with limitless variables. However, as Grover concludes, “It’s a fixed combat, it would evolve into various beasts… and we’re prepared for it.”



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