Business

Indian Major Label T-Series Joins Indian Copyright Society IPRS

IPRS, T-Series
Courtesy of IPRS

(L-R) Neeraj Kalyan, president, T-Series; lyricist and chairman of IPRS Javed Akhtar; Bhushan Kumar, chairman and managing director, T-Series; and Rakesh Nigam, CEO, IPRS.

CEO of the Indian Performing Rights Society says the deal with the label is “game changing” for the Indian music industry.

MUMBAI — The Indian Performing Rights Society, India's copyright collection organization, says that Super Cassettes Industries, the company better known as T-Series, the name of its label, has joined the IPRS -- a development the organizations described as a “watershed moment in the Indian music industry.”

With a catalog of over 200,000 titles, including more than 50,000 music videos, T-Series is the largest music label in India and boasts the biggest YouTube channel in the world with 178 million subscribers and more than 149 billion views.

In a video shared with the media last week, Bhushan Kumar, the chairman and managing director of T-Series, said the company’s decision to join the IPRS followed years of “differences of opinion” between the two. Until now, T-Series had struck its own deals with music licensees, but only for sound recordings of its repertoire.

The IPRS, which counts over 6,500 authors, composers and publishers as its members, says the addition of T-Series will “provide a game-changing boost” to its operations, “significantly enhancing the music publishing ecosystem in India and vastly improving the ease of doing business for numerous music licensees including broadcasters, digital services, telcos and various other small businesses intending to license music in a seamless single window clearance.”

As part of the arrangement, IPRS is expanding its board to give Kumar a seat, bringing the number of label representatives on the 13-member IPRS board to seven. India, the 17th-biggest music market in the world, grew by 4.9% last year to $180 million in revenues, according to the IFPI.

Rakesh Nigam, the CEO of the IPRS, spoke to Billboard about what made the Indian major finally come on board and how it could lead to a number of other holdouts following suit.

What convinced T-Series to finally join the IPRS?

It was a matter of a few things, such as making them understand the rights of authors, composers and publishers and that we have a good capability and network for data mining and royalty distribution. In India, we are still trying to establish the rights for underlying literary and musical works. T-Series and our thoughts and interests are finally aligned. Our common goal will be to work towards the larger interest of the music industry.

The Indian industry is rife with claims that major labels pocket composers’, lyricists’ and singers’ share of royalties. Will this help to put an end to such practices?

We have spoken to a lot of platforms, and they have told us that T-Series has not been collecting the author-composer share of royalty. In fact, from some of the platforms, they have not even collected their share of publishing monies.

Bhushan Kumar has been given a seat on the board as an additional director. Won’t this contribute to allegations that the IPRS is biased towards record labels?

They are one of the biggest players for music in India, and the biggest film producer. How can we deny someone as large as that a seat on the board? It would be very unfair for us to do that. [With regard to people saying the IPRS is] label-dominated, in 2019-20, we distributed around Rs140 crore ($19 million) in royalties, and in the current year, we would have distributed more than Rs180 crore ($24.5 million). More than 60% of these royalties have gone towards authors and composers.

There remain a few holdouts among the big Indian music labels, including Zee Music Company and Yash Raj Films Music. (In 2019, the IPRS had filed a criminal case against Yash Raj Films for misappropriation of royalties.)

Zee will be coming on board. We’re in advanced talks with them. Yash Raj, we would love for them to also join but I think they have their own interpretation of the law, which is very difficult for us to reconcile with. They say that we will collect and distribute the royalties ourselves. That will defeat the whole purpose of the Copyright Act. The Parliament’s intention was that there should be a neutral body, which should protect the interests of authors and composers. Otherwise, they would have no way to cross-check and cross-verify anything.

The IPRS has licensing agreements with Amazon, Apple, ByteDance, Google and Spotify, each of which operate streaming services in India, as well as domestic DSP Hungama Music. But you’ve yet to sign deals with the three largest homegrown streaming services: Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk Music. How are talks progressing?

With Gaana and Wynk at least, it’s at quite an advanced stage. But it all depends upon the valuation. If I agree to a valuation that they want, it would have closed yesterday. We are holding out for a fair value. I can’t devalue the rights of the owners and the author-composers. With JioSaavn [which is part of the much larger Reliance conglomerate], it’s taking more time.

The last year saw the launch of a number of Indian short video sharing apps, most of whom have not acquired licenses from the IPRS.

We’ve licensed the international platforms. (Facebook, which owns Instagram and its Reels platform, sealed an agreement with the IPRS in July 2020.) We might take some of [the Indian apps] to litigation in this quarter or early next quarter.

What’s your estimate of the amount of money that’s falling through the cracks?

If every app, every broadcaster, and all the radio stations also start paying, we should be a Rs500 crore-Rs600 crore ($68 million-$82 million) company, minimum. We are at Rs170 croreto Rs200 crore ($23 million-$27 million). T-Series’ joining will help us. Because of the sheer size of their content and their presence, a nudge from them will bring a lot of [people] to the table. We may not have to completely [pursue legal action], because with their pull and pressure, a lot of them will fall in line. That is the market power that T-Series has.

UPDATE: This article was updated April 12 at 2:45 p.m. EST. Due to incorrect information provided to Billboard, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the IPRS board of directors had 11 members. In fact, it has grown to 13 members.