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Copyright Series, Vol 2
What is the most important part of a song? If you ask this question to a layman, the answer will vary according to everyone’s tastes. Personally, I think the lyrics are the soul of a song, but someone else might think the music creates the real magic. As individual art consumers, we are all entitled to our opinions on a song. But does that make ownership of a song so subjective? Absolutely not.
This blog will address some of the important questions of copyright laws relating to the music industry, such as: who should be considered the owner of the song? Who is the main creator of the artwork?
To understand how the rights to each “work” are divided or assigned, one must first understand how a song is made. The process is a little more complicated than one might imagine. Each piece of music is an amalgamation of several individual works. For example, lyrics may be classified as a literary work under copyright law, while music may be classified as an artistic work. These works are combined to make the song by the Producer. This song is then used in a movie or video to be broadcast using a platform. This whole process involves several works; the words of the lyricist, the music of the composer, the recording and the film of the director of photography.
Here’s how the system currently works in the music industry:
- The producer “task” the music composer to create the music for the song, likewise he also “task” the lyricist to create the lyrics.
- The Composer and the Lyricists cede the rights of this “work” to the Producer
- The Composer is responsible for bringing together the rights of individual artists and musicians working on a single composition. Individuals also have rights over work because they contribute to its performance. The producer acquires the rights to use the song and gives credits to the musicians.
- The producer then assigns the rights to the song to a music label. The label then in turn exploits the rights to a film or video.
With this assignment of rights, the Label Musical acquires all control of the exploitation of the content. This basically means that a music label can use the “work” created by all these people in any way it sees fit, even those not yet anticipated by the parties. Let’s say, for example, someone created a piece of music in 2002, when the only broadcast mediums were radio and film, but now, in 2020, the mediums have expanded.
The same music can now be streamed on streaming platforms like Spotify and also on video websites like YouTube. In this case, the entire decision of the use of the music rests solely with the label and not with the individual artists. One of the prime examples of this is the song Masakali. Even though AR Rahman created the original song, T-Series owned all rights to use the song, which is why he was not consulted during the production of Masakali 2.0. Thus, all decisions regarding the use of the musical work are made by the composers, who are currently controlled by the music labels. If artists believe that their work has been wrongfully exploited, they can take legal action. This particular example will be very interesting to consider if it ever goes to court.
Does this mean that individuals earn nothing from their songs other than the upfront payment? No. This has been changed by changes to the
Indian Copyright Act in 2012. It states that although copyright can be assigned to different persons through contracts, the inherent right of an artist to receive royalties for the use of his job cannot be deleted. However, several labels still offer creative contracts to circumvent the procedure. Producers have taken advantage of the vague language that has been used in legislation to create new and sometimes illegal contracts. One such example is the use of the phrase “payment of royalties on an equal basis”. The legislation fails to explain what the term actually means as it does not necessarily share monetary benefits as well.
Another solution labels have for this law is the concept of Advanced Royalties. In this, the label enters into a contract with the individual in which the person receives money upfront as “Advanced Royalties”. This means that labels only make one payment to individuals and call it a “royalty”, which prevents the label from making further payments to the individual for future uses of the work.
Another problem with the situation in the industry is the retrospective application of the 2012 amendments. There is still uncertainty as to whether the same law applies to all contracts signed before 2012. And to exploit this, the labels have worked out backdated agreements so that all agreements dated before June 21, 2012 can be exempt from the changes. And so the exploitation continues.
One of the cornerstones of the act has been the empowerment of performing rights societies, in which case individual artists can register their work with the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS), which handles the literary and artistic work, and the company can then claim the royalties. on their behalf. We discuss their function and issues in detail in our next blog in the series. In the next blog, we’ll explore the intricacies of this topic and cover issues with IPRS in detail.
For more on the background of laws in the industry, please see our previous blog post on the same topic.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.
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