The Times of India & the Economic Times have both reported that radio stations are opposed to any move by the HRD Ministry to do away with the proposed ‘statutory licensing’ provision in the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010. It is not even clear whether the Ministry has actually proposed such a move. Image from here.
As per Section 31 of the Copyright Act, 1957 a compulsory licence for broadcast could be issued by the Copyright Board only if the works in question had been withheld from the public. This provision had been interpreted in many different ways during the arguments before the Supreme Court in the case of ENIL v. SCIL. The music companies tried to argue that since they were licensing their repertoire to the government broadcaster, All India Radio (AIR), there was no question of the works being withheld from the public and thus the private radio stations were not entitled to any relief under the compulsory licencing provisions. The Supreme Court however proceeded to give the provision a purposive interpretation in light of the changing economic scenario. As a result of the Supreme Court’s purposive interpretation of Section 31, multiple radio stations could now apply for compulsory licences.
The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010 aimed at codifying the Supreme Court judgment, by replacing the earlier section with a new provision (Clause 31D) which gave all broadcasters a right to apply for a licence at a rate fixed by the Copyright Board. Then in August, 2011 the Ministry moved an amendment to the pending amendment bill seeking to limit the scope of Clause 31(D) to only radio broadcasters and not television broadcasters. This led to very vocal protests from the television broadcasting industry. Their concerns were voiced in Parliament by members of the Opposition who had stalled the Bill due to a range of concerns.
The reports in the ToI and ET now indicate that the Government is contemplating dropping the provision entirely. The Association of Radio Operators (AROI) has reportedly written to the I&B Industry asking them to take up cudgels on their behalf and convince the Ministry of HRD to not drop the provision in its entirety.
The original amendment was blessed even by the Parliamentary Standing Committee and the government will be required to have a good reason to drop this amendment. On a separate note it will be interesting to see how the press covers this particular issue since several of the popular radio stations in India are in fact owned by media conglomerates which also own other media establishments. For example Radio Mirchi is owned by the Times Group which also owns Times of India and Economic Times. Similarly HT Media which owns Radio Fever also owns the Hindustan Times and Mint. The Dainik Jagran Group which own Radio Mantra also publishes several newspapers in Hindi, English and other regional languages. A few years ago the Government had proposed a law to curb such extensive cross-holdings in the media. However after an outcry from the media, the government seems to have dropped any attempt to push for such a law.