Singers and music labels face-off over “feudal contracts”

Image from here

Image from here

The ToI and Mumbai Mirror have carried this interesting story on an ongoing war between Indian Singers Rights Association (ISRA) and music labels with an increasing number of singers refusing to sign contracts which they have termed as “feudal”. Apparently, the Managing Director of ISRA, Sanjay Tandon and the singers are both alleging that the contracts being drafted up by the music labels are in violation of the Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012.

The article gets lost in the nitty-gritty of copyright law and legalese and is not very clear on the exact problem of the singers. The main complaint appears to be that the singers too want an equal share in the royalties earned by music labels and the music labels are only agreeing to give them a one-time lump-sum payment. Prima facie this claim by the singers appears to be out of sync with the legislative intent of the amendments because as we have reportedly pointed out on this blog, the amendments were enacted with the intention of giving composers and lyricists an equal share in royalties. From all the events that preceded the enactment of the new law, it appeared that the lobbying and the government’s concern was pointed towards protecting the interests of the composers and lyricists.

However, from a plain reading of the new Section 39A, it appears that Parliament may have granted singers the same rights as composers and lyricists which means that more people get a slice of the pie, provided of course that everybody takes a smaller slice of the pie. Section 39A was an old provision in the law which basically applied the old Section 18 & 19 to even performer’s rights enjoyed by singers. During the 2012 amendment, Section 39A was amended to include some extra provisions (such as TPMs) which would apply to even performer’s rights. However Parliament didn’t make any attempt to exclude the newly added provisos to Section 18 & 19 from the ambit of Section 39(A). As a result singers who qualify as performers qualify for the same rights as composers and singers.

But the issue isn’t as simple as appears because it is possible to dispute the exact scope of “performance” in the Copyright Act. A few months ago we had carried this excellent guest post on the scope and ambit of “performance right” under the law. The statute defines performer’s rights as a “live” event. However a Delhi High Court judgment in 2006 has apparently interpreted the statute to give performers rights even over the recorded versions. As pointed out by the ghost post, the Copyright Rules, 2013 defines performers rights in a manner which appears to go beyond the statutory definition contained in the Copyright Act.

These issues need to be litigated for the industry to get clarity.

Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).

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