Notices issued to video channels on YouTube for uploading Carnatic music rendition of compositions of saint Tyagaraja

A spate of copyright-violation notices issued to video channels on YouTube for uploading Carnatic music rendition of compositions of saint Tyagaraja, has raised the hackles of musicians and fans of the art form.

An online petition has now been launched asking YouTube to initiate a discussion on the matter, which musicians feel strike at the heart of the art form.

The issue escalated after ‘Parivadini,’ a popular video channel in the Carnatic music circles, uploaded on YouTube a recording of a concert in Chennai marking the World Music Day.

Almost immediately, the owners of the channel received violation notices claiming that certain compositions of Tyagaraja, which were part of the concert performance, were in fact copyrighted material of few famous recording houses.

Such notices usually appear when the owners of the original content flag an infringement when they are notified by a mechanism on YouTube called ‘Content ID.’ When a video is uploaded, this mechanism scans it for violations and notifies the content owner, who is provided with several options to deal with the infringement.

Lalitha Ram, one of the co-founders of Parivadini, says that it was bizarre that anyone could claim copyright for compositions of Tyagaraja. “Their [recording companies] right is restricted to the specific performance an artist has made for that one recording. There is no way they could claim copyright for the song itself,” he points out.

In fact, quoting past instances, he says companies have managed to successfully contend that they have the copyright for the compositions such as Kana Kana Ruchira Kanaka Vasana set in Varali raga and O Rangasayi in Khamboji. In consequence, the videos alleged to have violated copyright, were removed.

“Recording houses seem to be taking advantage of a flaw in the YouTube mechanism that does not recognise the nuances of a traditional art form and has been developed largely for the modern music industry in the West,” he says. This robs platforms such as Parivadini from diffusing the richness and glory of classical music through a popular medium like YouTube.

If a violation is made out on a particular YouTube channel for more than three times, the channel is closed. “They call every successful contention a CR-Strike,” he points out.

Noted vocalist T.M. Krishna says application of such copyright norms would affect all traditional music forms and not just Carnatic music. “Every rendition of a song in Carnatic music is a unique creation. I could sing the same song 1000 times on different occasions. But each rendition would be a unique creation,” he says.

YouTube reacts

Reacting to the issue, a YouTube spokesperson told The Hindu over email that the organisation takes copyright issues very seriously.

“We prohibit users from uploading infringing material and we cooperate with copyright holders to identify and promptly remove infringing content. If a content owner gets a copyright strike, it means that the video has been taken down from YouTube because a copyright owner sent us a complete legal request asking us to do so and we’re required by law to take down such content,” the official statement sent through email read.

YouTube said the platform also allows uploaders to submit a counter notification, if they believe that their video was mistakenly removed because it was misidentified as infringing, or qualifies as a potential fair use.

“We make several resources available to YouTube users on this," said the spokesperson.