Ilaiyaraaja fights for rights of his music being used for Rajinikanth-starrer Coolie, but what do copyright laws say? - Hindustan Times

Ilaiyaraaja fights for rights of his music being used for Rajinikanth-starrer Coolie, but what do copyright laws say?

May 15, 2024 02:40 PM IST

This is not the first time music composer Ilaiyaraaja has fought against usage of his songs without his permission. But is the law on his side?

In 2017, when music composer Ilaiyaraaja sued singer SP Balasubrahmanyam for singing his compositions without permission on a world tour, he made everyone sit up and take notice. Seven years later; it feels like the musician is still fighting for some semblance of control over his music, recently sending a copyright notice to the makers of Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Rajinikanth-starrer Coolie. (Also Read: Ilaiyaraaja shares an old, adorable black-and-white picture with his late daughter Bhavatharini)

Ilaiyaraaja is no stranger to fighting for rights over his music.
Ilaiyaraaja is no stranger to fighting for rights over his music.

Moneycontrol broke down copyright laws in India, citing examples and stating when and where the composer might have the right to sue for copyright infringement.

Ilaiyaraaja’s legal cases

Ilaiyaraaja’s most recent battle over his music involves the makers of Coolie. The makers had used the song Vaa Vaa Pakkam Vaa from the 1983 film Thanga Magan without his permission for a promotional video. When Rajinikanth was asked about Ilaiyaraaja sending a copyright notice to the makers, he said, “The issue is between Ilaiyaraaja and producer Kalanithi Maran.” An update is awaited on this case.

The musician is also embroiled in a legal battle with Indian Record Manufacturing Company (INERCO) over songs he composed in the late 70s and early 80s. After a single-judge ruling in Madras High Court, which stated he lacked ownership due to his contract, he’s now appealing again at the High Court in a two-bench judge, says the publication.

According to Live Law, the Madras High Court questioned whether Ilaiyaraaja could lay claim over the song, as the lyrics were penned by someone else. The judge pointed out that apart from the lyricist and composer, a singer also contributes to making a song. The court questioned what would happen if the lyricists also asked for ownership, stating that he could not be the sole owner of the songs. The matter was adjourned to June.

Does Ilaiyaraaja own the copyright of his songs?

But does Ilaiyaraaja even own the copyright of his compositions, which have been used in films? The publication claims that the creator owns all rights until they transfer them, according to copyright law. But that gets complicated with film music because when used in a film, it becomes part of a project unless there’s a contract between the producer and composer that states otherwise.

Moneycontrol quoted Swati Sharma, partner and head, intellectual property, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas as saying, “In the case of musical work, the composer is the author of the work and, hence, the owner. The producer is considered the first owner of the cinematograph film. When a song becomes a part of the film, the first ownership of the musical work vests with the producer.”

The only exception to copyright is fair use, which allows songs to be used for criticism, commenting, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. Since Coolie-makers used the song for promotional purposes, it is considered beyond fair use, according to the publication.

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