Copyright

PPL Extortion Takes a Turn for the Worse: Will the Government Please Step in?


It is lamentable that despite our posts documenting the extortionist tactics of PPL and questioning its non transparent mode of functioning, things have only taken a turn for the worse. SpicyIP now has some damning evidence in the form of letters written by PPL to one of its victims, that reek of high handedness, intimidation, arrogance and worst of all, an utter and brazen ignorance of the law.
Clearly this is one organisation which continues to operate under the “legal radar” without sufficient transparency and accountability; but paradoxically attempts to deploy the very instrument of law to serve its exortionist ends.

In our earlier posts, we mounted some serious challenges to PPL’s very authority to collect moneys for public performances, particularly in the context of foreign sound recordings. We’re not suggesting for a moment that copyright law must be ignored or that copyright owners must not be paid a license fee when a right is exploited. However, we simply ask whether PPL is entitled to collect license fees when any sound recording under the sun is played? Has it been authorised to do so by the copyright owner, and more importantly, does it account for such fees and remit it to the concerned copyright owner?

Contrary to what PPL asserts in its various letters that are now available our website, (with names redacted), every member of the public is entitled to know under what authority PPL collects royalties. Unless PPL demonstrates the source of this authority, no one in India need pay them at all!

What makes all of this worse is that PPL is a statutory creation (its genesis can be found in the Indian copyright act) and ought to be subjected to higher norms of transparency and accountability.

We once again exhort the government to please step in and put an end to this brazen illegality. PPL ought to be forced to become more transparent and disclose its various agreements under which it holds rights to collect royalties on behalf of copyright owners.

The PPL letters contain some amusing nuggets. Upon being politely requested to demonstrate its various rights in the music that was sought to be performed, PPL’s classic response is:

“Sorry we r not going to disclose terms and conditions of aggrement we have with our members since it is very much company oriented and not a public document.

If you r not satisfied with explanation as forwarded by us from Coyright Law Book released by Govt of India ,I am afraid u need to go to Ministry/Judiciary for knowing fact of Life. Meanwhile event as discussed needs to be stopped unless matter is being cleared by any appropriate authority to both the parties.”

Don’t the PPL computers have spell check? More importantly, does one need to gift PPL with a Wren and Martin? And pray, what is the “fact of life”? That PPL is extorting money from poor unsuspecting victims, when it is not legally entitled to do so?

If any of you have faced similar harassment from PPL, please let us know. We’ll ensure that you receive pro bono legal representation. We need to fight this collectively and put an end to it… quickly..

Shamnad Basheer

Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He's also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof. Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Prof. Basheer joined Anand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Later, he was the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and also a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. Prof. Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP, the Stanford Technology Law Review and CREATe. He was consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also served on several government committees.

12 comments.

  1. Anonymous

    Great job Shamnad! I wonder why the lawyer involved has not taken serious objection to the language and tone of PPL’s communciations with his client. I believe this amounts to slander and intimidation.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Good that you have pointed out this. Yet another tactic adopted by PPL is that they wait till the last moment and charge exorbitant fee wherein the other party (event management or similar groups) are left bewildered realizing that they are left out without any bargaining powers.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Would PPL be covered under the Definition of a “Public Authority” as per the RTI Act, 2005?
    “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—
    (a) by or under the Constitution;

    (b) by any other law made by Parliament;
    (c) by any other law made by State Legislature;
    (d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—

    (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
    (ii) non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    I have come across numerous instances – especially in Kolkata where the PPL has barged into venues and threatened to stop events unless a “license fee” is paid – what is even more ludicrous, is that if it’s a sponsored event — the organisers are told that since they have more money from the sponsors, they need to pay more.

    How can a performance license fee cost more, for the same performance – irrespective of whether it’s sponsored or not?

    Why is the PPL adamant about NOT showing any documented evidence or proof that they are the legally entitled body to collect PERFORMANCE fees, for pieces of music from record labels that are based outside India??

    How come that according to the PPL’s balance sheet there is NO evidence of any renumerations made to foreign companies or record labels, even though “license fees” are being collected on their behalf??

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Further to my earlier post, please find below a few decided cases under the RTI Act, 2005.

    DISCOMS ARE PUBLIC AUTHORITIES
    Both from the point of view of their being created by a government notification and the finances received directly or indirectly from Government of NCT of Delhi, DISCOMs [ M/s. North Delhi Power Limited, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited, BSES Yamuna Power Limited (Hereinafter referred to as DISCOMs)] are public authorities within the meaning of Right to Information Act and, because the matter was raised in appeal before us and has been closely argued in this hearing they are so declared by this Commission in the present proceedings….The DISCOMs will however proceed to set up the necessary infrastructure for servicing applications under the RTI Act, 2005, to be fully operational within sixty days from the date of issue of this decision.
    CIC/WB/A/2006/00011-30.11.2006

    Whether a Cooperative Society is a public authority?
    Whether the Cooperative Society in question falls within the definition of public authority or not u/s 2(h) (d) or not is for the Office of Registrar to decide. However, the application in this case has been made to the public authority, the office of Registrar Cooperative Societies. It has been agreed by all parties in the hearing that the information sought, even if the Cooperative Society in question is deemed a private body, it falls within the definition of information u/s 2(f) of the Act, because it is accessible to the public authority, Registrar Cooperative Societies, under the Delhi Cooperative Societies Act, 2003… Registrar Cooperative Societies is advised to use his authority under the DCS Act 2003 to ensure that the East End Cooperative Group HousingSociety Ltd. is brought in compliance with the existing law on the subject and make that information available to appellant.
    CIC/WB/C/2006/00080-9.10.2006

    Cooperative Societies
    Shri Sanjiv Kumar of Rohini, Delhi applied to the PIO in the Office of the Registrar, Cooperative Societies, NCT, Delhi on 5.12.2005 requesting information on nine points relating to the New Arya Group Housing Society Limited.
    CIC held : The kind of information sought, including audit reports of cooperative societies should normally have found place on the website of the Public Authority as
    mandated u/s 4. We are satisfied that there is reasonable ground to enquire into
    the matter. The Additional Registrar will visit the Office of the Registrar,
    Cooperative Societies NCT Delhi, as required u/s 18 (2) of the Act, identify the shortcomings in attending to duties enjoined upon it under the RTI Act, 2005, after which detailed directions will be given to the Public Authority on improving its responsiveness in keeping with the spirit of the Act. CIC/WB/A/2006/00029 -20 July,2006

    NGOs
    NGO’s substantially financed by the appropriate Government are covered even if
    no specific notification is issued by the appropriate Government. There is no need of separate notification or order listing all NGOs to be covered under the Act. s.2(h)(d) mentions two separate categories, one of which is notified the Government and others which are mentioned in the inclusive definition. Both the categories are separated by a comma and the conjunction “and”; Goa SIC Decision dt. -22 June,2006
    10

    Reply
  6. mnbvcxzaq1

    dear shamnad,
    lemme know if any of the victims need advice/strategising (of course, pro bono, strictly) in delhi. n i agree wid u that we “…need to fight this collectively…”

    Reply
  7. Shamnad Basheer

    Dear Anons,

    Thanks for all your comments. Lets hope that we can get some traction here to bring PPL harassment to an end. I’ll investigate the issue of whether or not they fall under the RTI further–and then perhaps we can call for “licensing” information.

    In the meantime, we need to build up a good repository of unethical and illegal PPL practices here. So if you know of any other instances (one of you gave the example of PPL charging more simply because there was a sponsor) or have friends who have suffered at the hands of PPL, do encourage them to post anonymously here.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Good Article.
    No organization whether formed or not formed under statute should work like this.
    I think PPL will not come under RTI Act…but certainly can come under Competition Commission…so I advise you all either file cases in the Courts of Law or before Competition Commission…
    Knowledgeable Lawyers please share your views on this

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Recently, one of the gig held on 29th August 2009 at Taj Green Cove – Kovalam Beach, Trivandrum faced similar situation. Event organisers ended up paying 1.5lakh INR towards PPL!!!

    Reply
  10. Shamnad Basheer

    Thanks for all your comments,

    I believe that the proposed copyright amendments (whcih havent been made public as yet) has some provisions that would regulate the collecting societies in a better manner–and we may not therefore see many of these problems in future. But this is all hearsay.

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Like every other indian , we well content in just talking about the issue , rather than addressing it !! .. Do something about it or just stop cribbing..

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    1. PPL has to show the member list and the authorisation letter from each of the members to any one who it asks to pay.
    2. PPL cannot collect money without showing ample reason why anyone is asked to pay.
    3. PPL intimidates, is common knowledge. But common people do not know that all the songs don’t belong to PPL, so all the royalty need not go to PPL even if you are playing French or Spanish songs that do not belong to its members.
    4. If next time ever anybody asks you to pay, remember that all the songs played only on a recorded format have to be paid for first and not live performances, BUT ONLY AND ONLY if the song belongs to the PPL’s member/s. If not, there is no need to pay to PPL. Example if a song were to belong to a company called Music and Music Private Limited (dummy name), then check if this company is a member of PPL. Then check if that company has given the rights to collect royalty for specifically for Events or not. If you are asked to pay for any usage, first ask if such rights to collect payment related to such usage (events, radio etc.) are given to PPL.
    4. Don’t end up paying everyone just because you are asked to pay. Hire a lawyer and fight back if the approach is to threaten you. Any bad language or high handedness should be dealt with just like credit card vasooli agents. NO matter how much you owe, no one can barge into your house. Let them knock the court.
    5. Police and courts are known to give a tough time to PPL, because PPL has to file all the reports and reasons in order to collect such money.
    6. Example: If 1 out of 10 songs that are played (played, not sung/performed live) belong to PPL, record the event as evidence and present it in court alongwith witnesses from your organisation/association. If you can prove that only 1 song or only 5 to 10% of the songs belong to PPL’s members, then you will have to pay for what you used rather than pay for all the songs. Please note that PPL assumes that most of the songs or certain percentage of songs among all events belong to its members which may or may not be true.

    Law is to help everyone doing the right thing.

    Fight it tooth and nail.

    Reply

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