In focus Artistes hail the passing of Copyright Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha but remain cautious about its implementation. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo and Y. Sunita Chowdhary get the details

On Friday, when the ugly side of IPL hogged air time on television, writer Javed Akhtar won an arduous battle in the Rajya Sabha. The landmark Copyright Amendment Bill was passed and much of the credit goes to Akhtar's painstaking efforts for making members across party lines understand the plight of artistes.

The implementation of the Bill, in the long run, will entitle creators — composers, lyricists, singers and musicians — to royalty each time their song is used for a commercial purpose such as mobile ringtone, live performance or a TV commercial. As of now, the ones to gain are producers or music companies, as the case maybe, with benefits failing to reach the creators.

Whose work is it anyway?

“This is a huge victory and the beginning of a long process,” says Shankar Mahadevan. Singer/composers like him have reason to feel so. “Each time I have to perform one of my compositions for an event, I have to seek the permission of the music company that released the album. It's ironic that you have no right over your song, your baby,” he says.

The Copyright Amendment Bill is about creative rights as much as it is about monetary benefits. Says Shankar, “International artistes like Madonna and Shakira are comfortable coming out with an album once in two or three years because there is an assured income through royalty. Whereas in India, many of our erstwhile musicians live in penury.”

Composers and singers in the Hindi film industry and classical singers like Shubha Mudgal and Vishwamohan Bhatt have hailed the passing of the Bill. Singer Chinmayee, though, sounds cautious. “I shall take it with a bag of salt. I fear that legal experts on the payroll of music companies are already looking for loopholes in this Bill,” she says.

The scepticism stems from experience. “For a Malayalam film, I was asked to sign a contract stating I would forfeit all the rights. Most singers in the southern film industries don't have the power that their peers in Bollywood have, to thumb down such contracts. At times, singers here forego their remuneration with the hope that if the song becomes a hit, they can earn through stage performances,” reasons Chinmayee.

Chinmayee isn't the only one not jumping in joy. Director Chandra Siddarth points out, “It's going to be a long process. No one is sure of the address of some of the creative people. In an industry where even remunerations are not paid properly, expecting royalty seems far fetched. Further, television people will be disgruntled. When they have paid Rs. 5 crore to acquire satellite rights, why will they give royalty to creative people all over again? Moreover, a composer who now earns Rs. 10 lakh may be paid less by the producer and asked to collect the ‘chillar' amount as instalments from royalty.”

Lyricist Chaitanya Prasad feels the system of not giving creative artistes their due is deep rooted but welcomes the move. “Television channels make use of hit songs often for lampooning and political campaigning. Congress bought the rights to the Jai Ho song. But for other songs, the writer, singer and composer are kept in the dark. I hope all the ambiguity is put to rest when the Bill comes into force.”

Passing the Bill is the tip of the iceberg, agrees singer/composer R.P. Patnaik “The Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) and a few others bodies insist on registration and have taken the responsibility of handing over the royalty. Ghantasala's wife is still drawing the benefits of his creative work. My song Gajuwaka Pilla continues to be played in events after 11 years but it is the audio companies that are encashing it,” he says.

The promise of long term monetary gains, artistes feel, will change the way the industry is perceived. “Parents will look at music as a profession instead of worrying if their kids will be able to make ends meet,” says Shankar. He feels the quality of music will also improve. “If my composition becomes a hit and fetches me better long term returns, won't I work harder?” he asks.

Writers Inc.

The Copyright Amendment Bill will also benefit scriptwriters, directors and dialogue writers when a film is repeatedly screened on satellite channels or the dialogues used in other formats. Kitne aadmi the? Each time this cult line is used in a TV commercial or other films (Gabbar Singh for instance), imagine the royalty trickling down not just to the producers of Sholay but also the writers (Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan).

Director Trivikram Srinivas puts this in perspective: “This Bill will establish a connection between production houses and creators and facilitate a discussion. Having said that, there will be people who find loopholes. But it would be unfair to blame the entire institution or system. I had to forego my remuneration for Athadu because it overshot the budget. Now the film is being telecast repeatedly on television. I have moved on.”