Music industry out of tune on royalties

A R Rahman

MUMBAI: Recently, music composer A. R. Rahman opted out of Shah Rukh Khan’s production Om Shanti Om. Rahman’s loss was music composer duo Vishal-Shekhar’s gain. Rahman took a backseat because director Farah Khan and couldn’t agree on his terms — his new policy for music composition. Rahman is now keen to push for the financial rights of composers and lyricists, even producers.


A specialised body, the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) has the responsibility of issuing licenses to users of music and collects royalties from them, for and on behalf of its members, and distributes this royalty amongst them after deducting its administrative costs.


What is IPRS? The IPRS is a non-profit making organisation that came into existence on August 23,1969. It is a representative body of owners of music, viz. the composers, lyricists (or authors) and the publishers of music. The IPRS is also the sole authorised body that issues licenses permitting usage of music within India by any person.


In an ideal situation, the owners of music have a right to claim their performance royalty, mechanical royalty and synchronisation royalty in musical works. IPRS administers and controls on behalf of its members: 1) Performing Rights – (which includes the right for broadcasting and causing the musical work to be transmitted, the right to perform the musical work in public and the right to communicate musical work to the public), 2) Mechanical rights (sale of cassettes and CDs), 3) Synchronisation rights in musical works.


The IPRS, ideally, is to have two music composers and one lyricist on its panel. When a music director composes music for an album, 50 per cent of the performance royalty should lie with the producer of the film, 30 per cent with the music director (20 per cent in case of mechanical royalty) and 20 per cent with the lyricist.



But music companies take away all the rights from the music director. In the majority of cases, no official contract is signed with the composers, and when a contract is signed, it reads, “Composer gives away all rights to the music company perpetually.”


So how justified is Rahman’s claim in the situation? “Today, Rahman is in a position to take such a decision, and ideally the industry should function in a manner wherein music directors get royalty on their music albums,” says music director Pritam, who has recently composed music for Dhoom:2, Woh Lamhe and Pyar Ke Side Effects.


In the 1920s and ‘30s, the American music industry had witnessed a unique situation, wherein all composers united against the music companies and demanded royalty. Now with the royalty they get, they can live a secure retired life. But is it likely that such a situation will arise in India? Will composers unite to fight for their rights? “There is a lot of insecurity in the music industry. If one director backs out of a project, ten others will try to grab it,” says Sulaiman of the music director duo Salim-Sulaiman.


Adds Pritam, “The jeopardy in this industry will not let anything systematise; not for the next 10-15 years.”


Music companies have a different take on this issue. Unfortunately, not too many music companies in Bollywood are willing to support Rahman’s demand for a share in the royalty of a song. In fact, Venus Music’s Champak Jain states, “We are not interested in working with music directors who demand royalties from us.”


T-Series’ Bhushan Kumar

T-Series chairman and managing director Bhushan Kumar says, “When we buy the rights from a producer, we buy the complete rights, whether outright or on minimum guarantee. If it’s on minimum guarantee, we share the royalty, so in that case the music director cannot ask for anything. If he has sold all the rights to the producer, then the producer has the rights to give it to any third party, like they give it to us.”


He further adds, “If a music director asks for minimum guarantee and sharing, it’s a separate case. But you can’t ask for a fat amount and the royalty also. In that case, a music publishing company like us gets only the CD and cassette rights and the music director has the right to sell his music to anybody else. For instance, Rang De Basanti had hit music and it did equally good business on the digital front. Now if Sony does not have the IPRS license, how will it recover the money for songs that have been playing all over the place?”


Points out Pritam, “A music company pays us in lakhs and earns in crores from our music. In most cases now, it is a film’s hit music that drives the audience to theatres, so even the producers gets his share of money from ticket sales. But we end up as losers in the bargain.”


Sulaiman is hopeful, “There has been a lot of transition in the medium of music, so the royalty structure should also change with time.”  


Annu Malek

Annu Malek who is currently working on Love Story 2050 with Harry Baweja says, “I have signed an IPRS contract for the music in this film. Henceforth, I will only work on projects where I get an IPRS license.”


Following Rahman’s exemption of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodha-Akbar from the copyright net, Malek says he would also do the same with J.P Dutta and Sajid Nadiadwala, “They are like family to me. I cannot sign contracts with them. But for other producers who are professional with me, I will also be professional with them and sign contracts.”


Salim – Sulaiman

Salim–Sulaiman have also at times demanded the IPRS license and have attained it, but are reluctant to name the films. Whereas Pritam trails off matter-of-factly, “I am new in this industry. I am not in a position to put forth any demands.”


For a moment, if we consider that the demands of the owners of music are met, then what changes would it bring about? If owners of music get their due royalties, they will be financially secure, to begin with. They will not need to sign films in bulk, and can concentrate on projects in hand, leading to better output and quality. Ultimately, this move will also secure their image in the industry. Do we see fingers crossed?