On Thursday, The Rajya Sabha passed by a voice vote, the long-in-the-coming Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010.
The Bill has been a major source of debate and divisiveness within the film and music industries, and we at Box Office India and our sister publication, Sound Box, have been giving you a ringside view of the tortuous and contentious journey of this critical piece of legislation so far.
The successful passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, while a crucially important milestone, is not the formal culmination of the process as the Bill now needs to go to the Lok Sabha for debate and voting, and following that, for the President’s formal assent to finally become law. However, given the fact that the political consensus is in favour of the Bill, as is evident from the Rajya Sabha vote, coupled with the ruling UPA’s greater strength in the Lok Sabha vis-à-vis the Rajya Sabha, the ultimate enactment of the Bill is almost a fait accompli.
While composers and lyricists will feel vindicated on the one hand, and music labels and producers aggrieved on the other; the real shocker in the Bill is the provision for compulsory licensing that has been extended to the radio and television industries.
Simply put, once the Bill becomes law, any radio station or television channel can broadcast any song they feel like without seeking the content owners’ permission. The content owner not only has no control over who can or cannot use his/her content, he/she cannot even demand a price of their choice as that will be determined by the Copyright Board.
It really baffles one why a law that was supposedly being changed to redress perceived wrongs towards composers and lyricists has so generously bestowed largesse to private broadcasters. Further, will composers and lyricists now find that while they have won the battle to be compensated for their creations, it’s almost a hollow victory because the biggest source of royalties – radio and television – have been given carte blanche at government prescribed rates?
It may be a bad form to say, ‘we told you so,’ but I would like to remind you of what we wrote on this very page more than two years back in our March 6, 2010 issue:
‘We hold no position on who should or should not get a slice of the film revenue pie. Our only suggestion, in the interest of everyone involved, would be that enlightened self interest should be, well, enlightened.
How are we going to administer and monetise the new rights, or rather new ownership of rights? Given that most rights are proposed to have multiple co-owners, how will the co-owners work in tandem given that the creation of such partnership has been preceded by much bitterness and acrimony? Will there be multiple royalty collecting associations and bodies which will give logistical and compliance nightmares to content users such as broadcasters, ISPs and mobile operators?
Let us not forget to address these issues too while debating who gets how much, or else we might find ourselves in a position where we have fought and won a substantial slice of the pie but the pie itself has shrunk to meager proportions.’
And now let me leave you, the film fraternity, with a question: if it is a public interest issue of such national importance that private radio stations and television channels be allowed to use music as they will, isn’t the natural extension of that logic to bring feature films also under the umbrella of compulsory licensing?