Nation Current Affairs 21 Mar 2017 Who calls the tune?

Who calls the tune?

Published Mar 21, 2017, 6:29 am IST
Updated Mar 21, 2017, 6:40 am IST
Copyright dispute between SPB and Ilayaraja, first between a singer and a music composer, evokes mixed reactions from legal fraternity.

Hyderabad: The long-standing issue with regard to copyright and royalties for composers, producers, music companies and singers in the film industry has come to the forefront again with music composer Ilayaraaja slapping a legal notice on singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam asking the latter not to perform songs composed by him for movies without his permission, in his concerts abroad.

There are several copyright disputes among film producers, music directors and music companies pending before the Supreme Court and High Courts. The row between Ilaiyaraaja and Balasubrahmanyam is said to be the first one between a singer and a music director.


Saregama India Limited, India’s oldest music label, has moved the Calcutta High Court against Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment Limited and EROS International Media Private Limited for synchornising the music and lyrics of the song Apni To Jaise Taise from the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Laawaris with the song Aaapka Kya Hota (Dhanno) in the film Houseful, claiming copyright.
Saregama has also moved the Calcutta High Court against the singer and composer Bappi Lahiri and Balaji Telefilms, owned by Ms Ekta Kapur, for Ooh-la-la Ooh-la-la, the signature track of the film The Dirty Picture, alleging that it was a rip-off of Ui-amma-ui-amma, a song from the filmMawaali, sung by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle and composed by Bappi Lahiri.


Saregama has taken many composers and movie makers to court for using original soundtracks of Hindi movies of which it holds the copyright, bought from producers and composers of the music.

The Copyright Act says that any person who knowingly infringes or abets the infringement of the copyright of any work commits a criminal offence under Section 63 of the Act.

If the singer infringes the right of the music director, who has established his right, then the singer has to face punishment which is six months imprisonment and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. Lawyers say the percentage of success in copyright cases is very minimal.


Justice Krishna Iyer, adjudicating a case in the Supreme Court in 1977, observed that “the Act specifies that the composer alone has copyright in a musical work. The singer has none. This disentitlement of the musician or group of musical artists to copyright is un-Indian, because the major attraction which lends monetary value to a musical performance is not the music maker, as much as the musician. Perhaps, both deserve to be recognised by the copyright law.”
Though the Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012 clarifies that the composer alone has copyright in a musical work, the Calcutta High Court has ruled in Saregama India Ltd versus Puneet Prakash Mehra and others, that “it is true the composer becomes the first owner of the copyright of the music... but in the absence of such contract agreement between producer and music maker, the producer composer becomes the first owner.”


Mr B. Chandrasen Reddy, who practises in the Hyderabad High Court, said that just performing a song composed by a music director on a public platform could not amount to infringement of the Copyright Act.

He says that normally the producer of a movie engaged a music director to compose the songs, and the music director chooses the singers. After recording the music, the producer enters into an agreement with the music company for marketing on the basis of royalty, the royalty accruing going to him as well as to the composer.

Unless there is an express agreement between the producer and the music director that the music director has rights over his composition, the music director has no right to claim copyright.


Mr Pappu Nageswara Rao, another advocate of the High Court, cited a Supreme Court ruling of 1977 in Indian Performing Right Society versus Eastern India Motion Pictures, which said that beyond exhibiting the film as a cinema show, if the producer played the songs separately to attract an audience or for other reason, he infringed the composer’s copyright.

The Supreme Court ruled that “anywhere, in a restaurant or aeroplane or radio station or cinema theatre, if music is played, there comes into play the copyright of the composer or the Performing Arts Society. These are the boundaries of composite creations of art which are at once individual and collective, viewed from different angles.”


Mr Rao opined that if Ilayaraaja had the copyright for his compositions, he had the right to ask S.P. Balasubrahmanyam for royalty as there was no provision under the Act which conferred rights to the singer.

Ilayaraaja’s copyright consultant claimed that the music director held the copyright of many of his songs and they were not compelling orchestras or musicians to pay royalty.

Notice valid: IPR Attorney Assn prez

P. Sanjai Gandhi, president, Intellectual Property Rights Attorney Association  and additional government pleader at the Madras high court, says the fresh controversy has created awareness among the people about the intellectual property rights in the country.  


Noting that Illayaraja obtained copyrights for all his songs from the Copy Rights Registry, New Delhi, under Copy Rights Act 1957, Mr Gandhi said he is the copyrights holder for his songs since he composed the tunes and lyrics were based on the tunes.  “The notice issued by him against S.P. Balasubramanyam is legally valid. The issue is settled now since SPB agreed not to play his songs during the shows conducted abroad,” Mr Gandhi told Deccan Chronicle.

Location: India, Telangana, Hyderabad