The Government of India recently introduced a bill in the Parliament for amendment in the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 with regard to music rights for films. If passed, then, along with the producers, the lyricists and the composers would also have a stake in the profits generated from the sale of musical tracks. In other words, the latter would be joint shareholders with the producers on the ‘royalty’ from sales through various channels.
The fallout has been a ban imposed by the Film Federation of India [FFI] on Javed Akhtar, who parlayed a career as a dialogue writer to lyric-writing success, as he was the one who pushed for the bill for what he felt was a just cause. FFI justified the ban saying that the producer was already in a high-risk zone and such a move would only increase the level of financial burden on him.
The royalty issue is nothing new to the industry. In the 1960s, Lata Mangeshkar had pushed vehemently for singers to be given a share of the advance royalty paid by the music companies to the producers, of which, a miniscule portion used to be transferred on to the music director. Lata’s argument was that if the producer surrendered a part of the royalty to the music director, the singer in question, brooked a similar claim as it was he/she who carried it across to the masses. Javed Akhtar’s line of call is similar in tenor to Lata’s, for in his opinion, the lyricists always get a raw deal as they are paid once for a song and then totally bypassed, while the producer is able to exploit its selling potential for an indefinite period.
Lata, however, was unable to have it her way, for despite having the backing of almost the entire playback fraternity, the most crucial of them all, Mohd. Rafi, stood in intrepid opposition. Rafi’s argument was that as a playback singer, his claim over a song ended once he had recorded it, for unlike a music director, he was not ‘contractually bound’ to the producer to demand a share in royalty inasmuch as a song’s success or failure had no bearing on the singer, so long as he had been paid his legitimate dues. FFI’s point in a way vindicates Rafi’s stand, that if the lyricists demand a share in the profits as royalty, would they also be prepared to bear the losses if any, with the producer? After all, even the best of song writers cannot claim that every single number of theirs would hit the bulls-eye.
Four decades ago, Rafi’s opposition to Queen-bee Lata not only put a spoke in her royal(ty) wheel but also led to strained relations between the two super-singers. It would be interesting to see the outcome of a similar crusade when the new Copyright bill comes up for debate in the Parliament. Would Javed Akhtar emerge as a key benefactor for the song writer’s fraternity or just fade away like one of those fleeting phantoms who raise dust but no level? Only time will tell.