Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi, who together gave Hindi cinema several melodious songs, once hummed a tune of discord.

Lata Mangeshkar said singers too deserved royalty of songs along with composers and lyricists, but Rafi begged to differ. That was over half-a-century ago.

The controversy is back with the singers’ organisation, Indian Singers’ Rights Association (ISRA), demanding at a press conference in Chennai recently that it would soon begin collecting royalty for their songs. Among those who spoke at the press meet were singers Yesudas, S.P. Balasubramaniam, Hariharan, and Vani Jayaram.

The announcement was not exactly music to the composers’ ears. “The lyricist is the father of the song and the composer is the mother; the song is their baby that can only be pampered by a singer, be it Yesudas or Chithra,” said Vidyadharan, a senior composer in Malayalam. “A singer cannot claim ownership of a song,” he said.

Composer M. Jayachandran said the singer’s brief was just to deliver what he had been asked to by the lyricist and the composer. “If a singer wants to improvise while recording a song, he has to get the permission of the composer,” he said.

Playback singer Unni Menon said if a song became popular it was because it was sung by a talented singer. “If Yesudas and P. Susheela had not sung the songs they did, those songs would not have become as popular,” he said. “And we should not forget the fact that the singers are paid a pittance, sometimes nothing. If a producer could spend Rs.3 or 4 crore on a film, why cannot he pay a singer his or her dues too? The royalty could be a source of income for singers, and there are many needy singers,” Mr. Menon said.

Singer G. Venugopal said he could not understand why the composers were upset. “The interests of music directors and lyricists are already protected by the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS), which collects and distributes money due to them for the performance of their songs on radio and other platforms,” he said. “Why cannot we singers get what we deserve for our contribution to a song? For me personally, I see the royalty more as recognition.”

Mr. Menon said he was surprised by the amount of noise the composers were making. “I have composed music for just one film, ‘Sthithi,’ in 2003, but I have so far received Rs.55,000 as royalty from the IPRS, so you could imagine the kind of money leading composers could be getting,” he said.

Mr. Jayachandran said even if singers were to be paid royalty, it should be just 10 per cent of what is given to composers and lyricists. “The musicians who play the instruments for a song too have to be paid royalty then,” he said. “And, it is not as if singers are not making any money after they record a song; they get paid handsomely for their stage and television shows,” he said. Mr. Venugopal said nobody was stopping a composer from performing live on stage. “And some of them are singers too,” he said. “There is one thing music directors and lyricists should remember: it was a lyricist, Javed Akhtar, who spoke for singers in the Rajya Sabha. It was his speech that led to the introduction of the Copyright Amendment Bill last year,” he said. Looks like the discordant notes in film music will not go away anytime soon.