A year after the Copyright Amendment Act, 2012, a group of creative artistes in Telugu and Tamil film industries are staking their claim to royalty.

In May 2012, speaking at the Rajya Sabha, when Javed Akhtar highlighted the plight of lyricists, composers and singers who have died in penury emphasising how monetary benefits by way of royalty would have benefited them, many were left moist-eyed. A year later, creative artistes are still groping in the dark.

Akhtar himself recently stated that he has been sidelined by major audio companies that do not want the Copyright Amendment Act, 2012, implemented. Many leading audio companies, across different languages, are drawing up contracts asking composers, singers and lyricists to forfeit royalty charges and instead opt for a fee towards ‘service charge’ and ‘advance royalty’.

A rebellion

Early this month, a team of composers and lyricists, including G.V. Prakash Kumar, Harris Jayaraj, D. Imman, Vijay Antony and Madan Karky came together to sign a petition challenging what they perceive to be arm-twisting tactics of audio companies. “We have submitted a petition to Cine Musicians Union in Chennai. We refuse to sign such contracts,” says G.V. Prakash Kumar.

The Telugu film industry, led by Paruchuri Gopalakrishna, president, AP Cine Writers Association, is also framing guidelines to help lyricists and screen writers claim royalty. “This is a work in progress. We are taking the help of the team that worked with Javed Akhtar,” says Gopalakrishna.

In an ideal situation, each time we buy music (across platforms such as VCD/digital music/ringtone) or a song/movie is played on FM/television, a part of the revenue earned should trickle to the writer, director, composer and singer. “This is an accepted norm globally. With guidelines in place, it is feasible in India,” says G.V. Prakash.

Audio companies cite diminishing sales of music for not wanting to pay royalty. “Irrespective of the platform — VCDs, digital music or mobile ringtones, the content is ours, so what’s wrong in asking for royalty?” asks G.V. Prakash.

Counterpoint

Director Madhura Sreedhar who also owns Madhura Audio argues that creative artistes are paid for their work and it’s unfair to expect royalty. “We all are hired by a producer and paid to do our respective jobs. Once the film is completed, how can we expect life-long revenue for what we’ve done earlier?” he asks. He states that with dwindling sales of audio, the major revenue earner is through ringtones. “Audio companies make profit only when an album becomes a huge success. Most albums are loss-making propositions. Also, many established composers charge a hefty fee, anywhere from Rs. 1 to 1.5 crore. Some of the biggest names have not raised their voice asking for royalty, because they understand how the Math works. In case of smaller films, say for a film produced within a budget of Rs. 2 crore, the budget for music is much lesser at Rs. 20 lakh and lyricists earn around Rs. 10,000 per song,” he says.

Two types of agreements are generally worked out. In most cases, audio companies ask for ‘outright’ sale of rights in which creators have no claim over royalty. In the second case, the rights are sold for a small sum but creators are assured of royalty. Madhura Sreedhar cites examples of devotional/non-film albums released under his label that have ensured royalty to creators.

The film music industry is in for a big churn, for the better or worse, it is to be seen. A few composers and singers themselves are unsure if this brouhaha over royalty will benefit them in the long run. A singer who croons for different industries refuses to be quoted for fear of inviting the wrath of big audio labels and producers. “None of us is indispensable. If we demand royalty, there’s always the chance of being quickly replaced by newcomers. We have to choose between having a steady stream of work or swatting flies at home. It is easy to take a tough stance once you have a wide repertoire of work and have reached your peak,” she says.

G.V. Prakash feels such fears are misplaced. “Where is the need to feel insecure? If singers, composers and lyricists unite, it’s possible to win this fight,” he says. He also refutes the argument that audio companies face huge losses. “If film music was such a loss-making proposition, would they still be in business? They bring up such issues since we are demanding our due. Unless a film has big stars, audio companies buy the rights for a pittance. When the songs become a hit, they stand to gain hugely by way of sales of music and ringtones,” he adds.

However, even within the music fraternity, there are discordant notes. Not everyone is eager to join this fight. Mickey J Meyer, for instance, says, “I sign a contract stating that I have the rights over the tunes and dubbing. So if the film is sold for remake or dubbing, my consent is required for the music. Royalty is justified in case of private albums whereas we are working for a film and are being paid by the producer. Further, we don’t have a stringent method that tracks the exact sales of an album.”

Write to royalty

The music industry’s tug of war is one part of the story. Directors and writers too stand to benefit if the Copyright Amendment Act, 2012, is implemented. Paruchuri Gopalakrishna feels the time has come for writers and directors to ask for royalty from satellite rights. “Most channels here purchase films for an ‘outright’ sum than opt for different payments for first telecast, second telecast or a stipulated period of time. So there is no recurrent expense for them. Channels telecast certain movies more than a 100 times. Don’t they earn revenue through commercials? So what’s the harm is working out a system whereby a small percentage will trickle down to directors and writers as royalty?

The AP Cine Writers Association is now asking lyricists not to buckle under pressure and sign contracts forfeiting royalty. Lyricists who do so may lose their membership with the association. Lyricist Chandra Bose says, “It’s unfair to steal our life-long royalty. If I don’t sign the contract, companies will approach another lyricist. But will he/she sign? All of us are together in this and are being guided by the association.”

(With inputs from Y. Sunita Chowdhary)