Indian Performance Royalties Threatened By Court Rulings
Indian Performance Royalties Threatened By Court Rulings

Two Indian court rulings could kill off authors' performance royalties from radio airplay in the vast country. A High Court in Mumbai (July 25) ruled in favor of broadcaster Music Broadcast Private Limited and the judiciary in New Dehli (July 28) ruled in favor of Synergy Media in cases challenging the right of authors body the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) to claim royalties on radio airplay.

IPRS collects royalties on behalf of domestic publishers and for overseas societies' international repertoire via reciprocal agreements. It is widely expected to will appeal both decisions, although the society did not respond to requests for comment.

A former IPRS director Javed Akhtar, a Bollywood lyricist and scriptwriter, issued a statement on the Mumbai ruling, calling it "completely regressive and totally incompatible with international law."

The Delhi Court ruled that once a license has been granted for the broadcast of a piece of recorded music, no separate license is needed for the authors' rights in the composition itself.

The Mumbai court had reached a similar verdict, ruling that radio stations need only make payment to Phonographic Performance Ltd (India), which collects royalties in sound recordings on behalf of rights-owners--primarily the big "Bollywood" film studios.

Robin Gibb, President of the International Confederation of Societies of authors and Composers (CISAC) and Bee Gee, issued a statement expressing "deep concern and dismay" at the rulings. He urged the Indian government "to take immediate remedial measures to correct the wrong that will result from the outcome of these judgments." He claimed the rulings could end the flow of "millions of dollars" to songwriters and publishers.

In its financial report for the year ending March 31 2010, IPRS said it collected 107.3 million rupees ($2.4 million) from domestic radio, up from ($1.8 million) in 2008-09. Total license fee income was 420.8 billion rupees ($9.5 million), up from 265.3 billion rupees ($6 million) in 2008-09. The amount sent to overseas societies was not revealed.

While radio stations have publicly welcomed the decisions, Gibb said they "represent a major and unacceptable regression in the copyright protection being granted to authors and composers of musical works."

He suggested the rulings also represent "a serious breach" of India's obligations under the Berne Convention, which requires signatories to recognize the copyright of works of other signatory countries' authors and to impose specific minimum standards in copyright legislation. India signed the treaty in 1928.

The latest developments are a new twist in the convoluted tale of Intellectual Property rights in India, where the leading Bollywood film studios dominate the music market ( Billboard, Feb. 24, 2007). Generally, film production companies buy all rights from composers and performers for a one-off fee, then sell all rights in the music to record companies--or release the recordings through their own record arms. IPRS collects for material which is not covered by such "Bollywood" deals, including international repertoire.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel, however, in the shape of the pending Copyright (Amendment Bill) 2010.

In November 2010, authors welcomed a Parliamentary standing committee recommendation--since approved by cabinet--that the Bill should include a clause allowing composers and lyricists to retain their rights over their work even if it has been incorporated into a film.

Although the film producer would be the "first owner" with respect to the music when it's used as part of the movie, the author would be considered first owner for all other purposes. The bill is expected to be debated in India's Parliament later this month.