The Madras High Court has directed about 50 star hotels including Accord Metropolitan, Radissan Blu, Ramada, Hilton, The Rain Tree and Le Royal Meridien in Chennai, Poppys Hotel at Coimbatore and Madurai and a few others at Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru, Hubballi and Ballari in Karnataka to deposit about ₹75,000 to ₹ 1.25 lakh before playing certain film songs, protected under the Copyright Act of 1957, during the New Year celebrations.
Though Justice M. Sundar had on December 22 directed all 50 hotels to deposit ₹1.25 lakh each to the credit of a civil suit filed by Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), a body which controls public performance rights in more than seven lakh songs in various Indian languages, a Division Bench of Justices M.S. Ramesh and G.R. Swaminathan on Thursday reduced the deposit to ₹75,000 with respect to a few hotels that had come on appeal.
During the course of hearing, it was brought to the notice of the court that PPL was created by members of Indian Phonographic Industry, an association of phonogram producers, to administer their public performance and broadcasting rights. It had been licensing sound recordings for ‘non-physical’ use which meant all forms of exploitation of copyright in sound recordings except the manufacture and sale of physical copies like vinyl discs, compact discs, audio-cassettes, USBs and MP3 formats.
Such non-physical exploitation of sound recordings included public performance in hotels and restaurants, PPL said, and pointed out that hotels wanting to play its songs in discotheques, dance floors, bars, and so on, must obtain licence from it on payment of necessary tariff depending upon the duration for which the songs would be played and the number of guests expected. It also stated that hotels could check out its website to find out a list of assignor music labels.
However, senior counsel K. Doraisamy and advocate Vijayan Subramanian, representing the appellant hotels, claimed that there was no necessity for their clients to deposit any money when the right of PPL to claim ownership over the songs was itself under dispute. They also claimed that most of the 50 hotels that had been made as parties to the case charge a very meagre amount for New Year parties; hence, they need not be ordered to deposit ₹ 1.25 lakh.
On the other hand, advocate V. Kuberan, appearing for the PPL, contended that large hotels could afford to deposit ₹1.25 lakh since they charge up to ₹15,000 for every VVIP couple pass.
Rejecting the suggestion, the Bench said the money could not be handed over to the PPL until the main civil suit was decided in its favour. In his order, the single judge too had stated that the order permitting the hotels to play the songs on New Year eve, after depositing the money, was only an interim arrangement to protect the interests of both sides.