Unlike AR Rahman, Ilaiyaraaja did not retain copyright of his film songs, Echo tells Madras High Court

Makes the submission during the commencement of final hearing on an appeal filed by the music label against a single judge’s 2019 order in favour of Mr. Ilaiyaraaja

Updated - June 14, 2024 01:04 pm IST

Published - June 13, 2024 03:58 pm IST - CHENNAI


Ilaiyaraaja | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

Unlike the practice followed by musician A.R. Rahman, maestro R. Ilaiyaraaja had not retained the copyright for about 4,500 film songs composed by him between the 1970s and mid 1990s by adding a specific clause to that effect in the agreements entered between him and the movie producers. Therefore, he cannot claim any right over those songs, Echo Recording Private Limited argued before the Madras High Court on Thursday, June 13, 2024.

Commencing final arguments, on an original side appeal preferred by the music label, before the first Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice R. Mahadevan and Mohammed Shaffiq, senior counsel Vijay Narayan said, if Mr. Ilaiyaraaja had indeed retained the rights, then the burden of proof would be upon him to prove it by producing those contractual agreements before the court but claimed that he had miserably failed to do so during trial.

The senior counsel said, the Copyright Act of 1957 makes it clear that the film producers would be the first owner of the copyright of songs composed by the musicians unless there was an agreement to the contrary between them. “I am told that Mr. A.R. Rahman never parts with the copyright. Now, this is what most authors do. In those days, this concept was not there and therefore Mr. Ilaiyaraaja did not retain any right,” he added.

Stating that there could be many reasons for a musician engaged by a film producer to not retain copyright, Mr. Narayan said: “Sometimes, when a musician is in the beginning of his/her career, the financial considerations may outweigh the need to retain copyright... It is also possible that a budding musician may even take a very small amount of money as consideration but in this case, I am told that Mr. Ilaiyaraaja was paid very well.”

Though the appellant had purchased the copyright for the 4,500 songs from various film producers, a single judge of the High Court had in 2019 erroneously held that Mr. Ilaiyaraaaja could still exploit those compositions, Mr. Narayan said. He also said, the single judge was carried away by the present stature of the composer to hold that he could never have worked under a contract of service with a producer.

“All people must be treated equal in the eyes of law. Perhaps, this (observation by the single judge) is what that led to my learned friend (senior counsel Satish Parasaran) saying that he (Mr. Ilaiyaraaja) is above all. But the fact is that once a person comes to court, he has to be treated as equally as the next person. Nobody can claim a special status especially when it comes to commercial transactions,” Mr. Narayan added.

At this point, the Acting Chief Justice intervened to state that even Muthuswamy Dikshitar as well as Syama Sastri, considered as the trinity of Carnatic music along with Tyagarajar, had proclaimed that they were none before music. He said, one of the finest guitarists as well as one of the finest violinists too had made a similar proclamation and that the statement was even available online.

Thereafter, continuing his arguments, Mr. Narayan said, Mr. Ilayarajaa had admitted to have received remuneration for the songs in dispute but had only disputed the fact of having worked under a contract with the film producers, Mr. Narayan said: “Once he is remunerated for his works, then he loses all his rights as far as the issue of copyright is concerned.”

After hearing him, the Division Bench decided to hear Mr. Parasaran, representing Mr. Ilaiyaraaja, on June 19, 2024.

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