Artistes say members of a copyright group demand licence fee before every show in the city

The next time you buy a pass for an evening of rock music in Chennai, you might actually be contributing toward Elvis Presley’s royalty — going by the claim of the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS).

Members of several bands in the city say that of late, an IPRS member gets in touch with them before a show and demands that a particular sum — anything between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 80,000 — be paid as licence fee and royalty. IPRS spokespersons, however, say they have tie-ups with similar organisations in other countries and the money they collect goes to the respective artistes.

But the deal is not all that clear, say artistes, who are sceptical about the credibility of this initiative that claims to protect copyrights. Royalty payable to artistes or their foundations abroad, they believe, is a grey area.

As of now, there are two copyright societies that approach artistes, bands or organisers, to demand a licence fee: Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) and IPRS. According to intellectual property rights lawyer Ananth Padmanabhan, PPL deals only with sound recordings, while IPRS deals with the administration of musical and literary works. 

“If a sound recording is used as is, licence ought to be sought only from PPL. On the other hand, if only the musical score and the lyrics are used, as is the case in live concerts, you need to get a licence from IPRS,” he said.

A singer with an amateur rock band was taken by surprise when IPRS contacted her. “They (IPRS representatives) looked at advertisements and posters of our show and contacted us two days before the event and said we had to pay Rs. 26,000. They kept calling and harassing us,” she said.

Her band, she said, plays largely music from the 60s and 70s. “We don’t perform music of just one band or singer. It’s a mix — so will the IPRS distribute the fee among Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and the others?” she said.

Musician Denver Nicholas was stumped when IPRS members asked him to pay up Rs. 80,000 before performing a musical featuring Michael Jackson hits in September 2011. “I did not have a choice. Just a day before our show, a representative of the IPRS came with some documents. I was worried they would create problems. So I paid up,” he said.

When asked to comment, the IPRS representative in Chennai said his colleague at the head office in Mumbai was the right person to speak on the issue. When contacted over telephone, G.G. Prasad of IPRS, Mumbai, said: “IPRS has been working in the area of copyrights and licensing since 1969. While there is more awareness of copyright law now, much more needs to be done.”

In India, an artiste’s work enjoys copyright protection for 60 years over and above his/her lifetime. Mr. Padmanabhan said: “While we know of artistes and composers in India opting for IPRS membership, it is still unclear how IPRS deals with artistes or bands based abroad.”

According to Mr. Prasad, the IPRS has ties in 200 countries, in addition to over 3,000 artiste-members in India. “If an Indian band pays tribute to Michael Jackson in a show, our informers alert us. We then go and collect the licence fee and remit it to our partner’s account. Similarly, if there is a Laxmikant-Pyarelal night in Los Angeles, our US partners collect the licence fee on our behalf and remit it to our account. That’s how it works.”

Mr. Prasad added: “Many artistes here (in India) tell us they survive because of us. They pay Rs. 500 as a one-time membership fee and after that, we collect their royalty and hand it over to them, after deducting administrative costs.” Though IPRS claimed to go strictly by a tariff (view details on www.iprs.org), many artistes said the charges were not really standardised.

A Chennai-based guitarist with a hard rock band said: “The IPRS member bargained with us. When we said we could not pay Rs. 15,000, he settled for a lesser amount. I wonder if a few thousand rupees would mean anything to a star in the US or the UK.”

Mr. Prasad said: “Yes, we do negotiate within our parameters. The rates do not necessarily apply to the country where the original artiste is based, but it’s still important to collect the fee and pay royalty.”

Such negotiations made by the IPRS and the absence of adequate proof of how the collected money reaches artistes abroad irk artistes. Siddharth Srinivasan, who sings and plays for bands The Captains of Hook and Junkyard Groove, said: “It is important to ensure payment of royalty. But I wonder if it ever reaches the original artiste.”

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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