Indian Copyright Act Amendments Give Music Artists Ownership Rights

Robin Gibb Bee Gees Headshot - P 2011
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Robin Gibb Bee Gees Headshot - P 2011

The long-debated amendments – for which the late Robin Gibb had also campaigned with the Indian government - give copyright ownership to artists replacing the earlier work-for-hire system where film producers held that right.

NEW DELHI – In what is seen as a major victory for songwriters, composers and musicians working in the Indian film industry, revised amendments to the Copyright Act now give them better ownership control of their works. Considering India's film industry is dominated by songs, the amendments – which aim at updating existing laws with international and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) norms - can have bigger implications on how royalty rates are decided and shared in future.

The Copyright Act (Amendment) Bill 2012 – which now awaits final Presidential approval to become law - was passed in India's Lower House of Parliament and is aimed at correcting an imbalance in the country's copyright law which was seen as favoring film producers and record labels rather than the song creators.

Historically, Indian film producers have worked on a work-for-hire basis, employing songwriters, composers and singers for a fixed fees, which denied them revenues from other sources such as cover versions and especially ringtones, which have become increasingly lucrative.

The revised bill now declares authors or song creators as owners of the copyright, which cannot be assigned to the producers, replacing the earlier system. The amendments also specify that it will now be mandatory for broadcasters – both radio and TV – to pay a royalty to the owners of the copyright each time a work of art is broadcast.

The amendment also specifies that a cover version of any literary, dramatic or musical work, can only be allowed after five years from the first recording of the original creation.

The amendments had been supported by CISAC - the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers - whose president, the late Robin Gibb (co-founder of supergroup the Bee Gees) had also appealed to the Indian government.

“Movie music in India is a big business and it’s unacceptable that the composers and lyricists who make the music don’t benefit from the success of their works because of an outdated system. Indian producers and record companies clearly don’t want to share their royalties with creators, but the Indian Parliament needs to know that this is not the norm elsewhere,” Gibb said in a 2010 statement. Gibb became aware of the issue after he heard acclaimed Bollywood lyricist and screenwriter, Javed Akhtar, speak at the World Copyright Summit. Akhtar, a member of India's Upper House of Parliament, has been instrumental in lobbying for the amendments.

India's Minister for Human Resources Development, Kabil Sibal, who supervised the bill's amendments, said the new law will “most benefit those artists who were reduced to poverty in their old age.”

“India's historic day in art and music... It's the beginning of big change in India. So many great musicians, writers, composers will bless this era even from heaven,” said a Twitter message from well-known Bollywood singer Kailash Kher.

“This Amendment is an extremely positive move and we are very supportive of this bill. We are delighted that going forward the composers and lyricists will get a share in royalties. This was long awaited and we believe this will help the overall artist development and align us with global practices. We now need to wait for the law to be signed by the President and then begin the process of interpreting and implementing the new developments in a broad and consensual manner to develop healthy new practices. The only thing that we are disappointed with is not much has been done about the piracy issue that we all are struggling with and also the issue of statutory license for broadcasters. This is a matter between two businesses and should be negotiated between themselves,” Sony Music, president - India and Middle East, Shridhar Subramaniam said in a statement.

“The amendments will benefit every creative person in India... who has hitherto been deprived of his/her due so far. With this bill, the creators' rights are upheld and respected and the amendments are a positive step in the right direction,” said a statement from the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF).