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An estimated 3-minute read

Music, cinema & copyrights: Battle of Notes and Chords

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The Battle for Notes and Chords

“Cinema is more. than long strips of celluloid, more than miracles in photography, more than song, dance and dialogue and indeed, more than dramatic story, exciting plot, gripping situations and marvelous acting. But it is that ensemble which is the finished product of orchestrated performance by each of the several participants, although the components may, sometimes, in themselves be elegant entities.” – Krishna Iyer. J

The recent tussle between the veteran music composer Ilayaraja and the legendary singer S.P.Balasubramaniam has erupted a volcanic controversy in the reel Industry as well as invoking flood wave of protest and objections among fans and music lovers. Matters of money and property are insulated even from relationships thriving for years.

The Legal Notice served by the former, the document that blows the conch symbolizing the legal battle between the Composer and Singer, vindicates that albeit music being a finished product of orchestrated performance, it exists as elegant entities.

The veteran composer, who often remarked that Music was a gift of God, has played offence to his earlier statements claiming ownership of all his compositions. The moot question here is whether the maestro is entitled for such a tall claim? To answer this query of “Intellectual Property Right” which is the property right of the new age, understanding the conceptualization and nuances a “Copyright” becomes imperative.

Indian Copyright Act, 1957, the law of the land in so far Copyrights is concerned, states in its Section 13 that a Copyright subsists in original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. Now who owns these “copyrights” is the million dollar question. Is it the Music Composer? Or is it the Singer who renders it ultimately with his exquisite God-gifted voice or the Producer of the film, the supreme creator? The answer is subject to the facts and circumstances relating to license and assignment of the said right. How long does the holder own the Right? The Copyright shall, subject to law, subsist in musical or artistic work (other than a photograph) published within the life- time of the author, “Until fifty years from the beginning of the calendar year following the year in which the author dies.”

Ceteris paribus, the law states that the “Author” of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright and “Author”, according to the law means the “Composer” in relation to a musical work. Like any property right, the Copyright can also be sold, licensed and assigned.

Thus if an author (composer) of a lyric or musical work authorizes a cinematograph film producer to make a movie of his composition by recording it on the sound track of a cinematograph film, he cannot complain of the infringement of his copyright. The composer of a lyric or a musical work, however, retains the right of performing it in public for profit otherwise than as a part of the cinematograph film and he cannot be restrained from doing so.

For instance, a film may be caused to be exhibited as a film but the pieces of music cannot be picked out of the sound track and played in the cinema or other theatre. To do that is the privilege of the composer and that right of his is not crowned in the film copyright except exhibiting the film as a cinema show. It is indeed a dejecting truth the law leans in favor of the Composer. The word of the law is ominous that copyrighted music is not the soulful tune but also the superb singing, the glorious voice or the wonderful rendering.

Does Illayaraja have a valid claim? How vast is the scope of his Copyright? Why has he raised the issues of Copyright after a deep slumber? Has the rights not been assigned to a third party legally? Such questions would be answered by the Courts of law on perusing the law and the facts harmoniously.

Salai Varun Isai Azhagan,

Advocate, Madras High Court

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