With technology engulfing every aspect of personal and professional space, the fine line between creative rights and content dissemination is inadvertently crossed, especially in the realm of the arts. Should art be guarded or should it be shared freely?

How often does one hear that familiar announcement at live performances? The warning goes largely unheeded, as out pop an array of gadgets, each sleeker than the other. With technology engulfing every aspect of personal and professional space, the fine line between creative rights and content dissemination is inadvertently crossed at times, especially in the realm of the arts. Should art be guarded by the artist, for ultimately, isn’t a thing of beauty a joy worth sharing?

The legendary violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman was against live recording of his performances as early as the 1960-s. “Unlike these days when gadgets are easily hidden from artists, members of the audience in the ‘60s had to place the device in front of the speakers. There was no diplomacy involved when I forbade such recordings,” says the vidwan. His charmingly modest reason: “I only wanted my music to be recorded when I played better and given the high standards I had set for myself, that time hadn’t come.”

Over time, he relaxed his views and began to allow live recordings. Today he is thankful and reckons recordings make it possible for students to listen to great masters and have proof of incomparable renditions. To understand that the music one reminisces about really existed.

Vocalist P. Unnikrishnan records with various labels but, surprisingly, has a generous view on the subject. Carnatic music, he says, is alive today with a large artist and rasika base mainly due to easy access to fabulous concerts by great masters. "Such concerts have inspired generations of musicians to take the art forward and keep the wonderful tradition alive and intact,” he adds.

Some unauthorised recordings turn out to be brilliant concerts and the artist may have the opportunity to listen to himself years later in an unlikely location in the USA.

A downside, in Unnikrishnan’s view, is when a musician has a bad day and that particular recording goes viral. He wishes that rasikas would exercise caution in this regard and be sensitive to the musician who may simply want to put a poor performance behind him and move ahead.

Flautist Shashank is of the opinion that weak piracy laws have left the artist with just one asset - that of the art itself! He says, “Many musicians don’t like to confront the audience or the organisers who record a live performance due to the fear of not being invited again. I have been a victim and have learnt of ways to deal with it.” He suggests that a healthy way to promote the art would be to seek the consent of the artist and the organisation and contribute a prescribed fee so that everyone benefits. Clearly taking a stand against unauthorised recordings, Shashank wonders why a simple mechanism of depositing electronic items with the security at concert halls cannot be in place. “It can prevent thousands of recordings from getting into the public domain.” Incidentally, very conscious of the audio quality of recordings, Shashank began his own label in 1991.

Ubiquitous YouTube, copyrights and royalties

“I often say that technology is so advanced that it is quite likely my performance this evening was aired yesterday! “ quips Lalgudi Jayaraman. YouTube now has a staggering amount of music - rare and popular - freely available. Sometimes, rare works need to be protected and must be made available for a price, else the value diminishes, he says. “Art belongs to everyone and spreading this in a responsible manner is our duty.”

The artist completely loses control over his product once a recording label takes over. The company decides the shelf life of the music and if labels change hands, the artist is distanced even more. Lalgudi feels a good product that is still in demand suddenly ceases to exist in the market. In India, there is little or no accountability and a body ought to be created to protect the interests of the artist. A via media between one-off payments and royalties is also called for. In the case of a product that sells poorly, royalties make little difference. On the other hand, a one-off payment for a product that makes record sales may be inadequate for the artist.

Shashank muses that in the absence of YouTube back in the 60s and 70s, music lovers had to buy recordings thereby benefiting artists and producers directly. It would be ideal if YouTube only accepted material that is rightfully owned by the publisher. "I think agencies need to regulate online file sharing, since individual artists do not have the means to fight a phenomenon of this nature," he says.

Unnikrishnan feels every artist has a right to object to any kind of recording or reproduction especially in the background of copyright laws being rather vague in India. But with weak anti-piracy laws, nothing is really accomplished and artists do stand to lose. It is important to propagate art but this ought to be done in a spirit that keeps the artist and art alive for generations to come.