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Sharing the music moolah

delhi Updated: Mar 23, 2011 01:16 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

He had accidentally skipped a prescribed dose of antibiotics, but a thick sheaf of documents on the table proved adequate medicine to ignite an excited gleam in lyricist Javed Akhtar’s eyes.

“It is all here in these papers…how unjustly we have been treated all these years,” Akhtar said, the tiredness visible in his body language minutes earlier suddenly evaporating.

India’s singers, music composers, song writers and other artistes are at the cusp of consummating a long battle for copyright law amendments that promise to dramatically change power equations in Bollywood and the music industry.

The amendments will legally bestow upon music composers and lyricists the right to 25% of royalties earned from their songs. Such royalties are currently denied to them not by law but by what they allege are strong-arm tactics employed by select film producers and music companies.

In a polity divided by allegations flying faster than the ball off Virendra Sehwag’s bat, all political parties have unanimously supported the amendments moved by the human resource development (HRD) ministry, under Kapil Sibal.

The parliament standing committee on HRD in November 2010 approved the bill, with members across political parties supporting the amendments, and the ministry now plans to bring these before the Cabinet. The amendments could be passed by Parliament in a special 10-day sitting the government is planning for legislative work.

Film producers and music companies opposed to the amendments have expressed their concerns to the House panel and the government, and are petitioning the HRD ministry, Supran Sen, secretary general of the Film Federation of India (FFI), told HT recently.

The FFI and other bodies representing the producers and music firms are arguing that the amendments are unnecessary since composers and lyricists already have access to royalty unless they sign them away.

Technically they are correct, but practically lyricists and composers are virtually forced to sign away their royalty rights because of the absence of legal backing, government officials argue. What's the deal

Challenging this unofficial diktat means the risk of no work – even for the biggest names.

Winner of two Academy Awards in 2009, ‘Mozart from Madras’ AR Rahman asked Universal Music to keep earnings from India due to him out of their agreement – to avoid upseting Indian producers and risk losing work with them. “If this happens to people like Rahman, you can imagine what an ordinary composer or lyricist has to deal with,” said Akhtar.

Rahman and Pandit Ravi Shankar recently wrote to the Prime Minister supporting the amendments. “Due to extreme situations at times, composers and lyricists get arm-twisted and if this Bill is passed, it will provide them security in their minds and enable them to focus on their work and excel in it instead of worrying about fending for themselves,” Rahman wrote in his letter dated February 2.

If Rahman is to be believed, the amendments may just start the countdown to the next Indian Grammy or Oscar.

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