• Julian Karikalan

Understanding Music Copyrights

Dear Friends,

Discussions about Copyrights and verbal abuse on social media without any basic understanding of the issue in hand has been the hot topic this week. So, I thought I could shed some light on the actual laws that exist to protect the Intellectual Property rights of music creators and producers.

Having worked with Maestro Ilaiyaraaja for my English movie “Love and Love Only”, I speak from a Producers perspective. Having written the lyrics, I also speak from a Lyricists perspective. Finally, Raaja sir gave me the special opportunity to release the music worldwide myself. I did that through my own label and had to learn the copyright laws as a Music label. For explanation purposes, I am using the Copyright Act 1968 of Australia, which is quite similar to any other part of the world.

Firstly, there are three forms of copyright that exist in music. They are

1. Musical Work (Melody, Harmony, Rhythm)

2. Literary Work (The Lyrics)

3. Sound Recording (The actual recording)

The owner(s) of Copyright in the Musical Work or the Lyrics have the right to:

· Reproduce or copy the song ;

· Publish the song;

· Perform the song in public;

· Communicate the song to the public (such as by radio, television, or internet);

· Arrange or transcribe the musical work;

· Translate the lyrics.

The owner of the copyright in a sound recording of a song is NOT the owner of the copyright in the song being performed and recorded but rather the person identified as the ‘maker’ of the sound recording. Simply said, the person who paid for the recording to happen is the maker. This is usually the Producer of the movie who pays the composer, singers, musicians, the studio and all staff associated with the recording. Many people asked this question on social media about why the composer should hold the rights and not the producer. Hope this clarifies that doubt.

In case the producer employed the composer and the lyricist, the producer becomes the sole rights holder for all three rights. For example, AVM studios used to employ some composers as Studio staff.

However, law differentiates employees and independent contractors. An independent contractor paid to create music or lyrics is still the first owner of copyright in the works they create, unless there is a written contract that transfers ownership of the copyright to the producer. In most of his films, Ilaiyaraaja sir was not an employee but an independent contractor commissioned to write the music and songs for the movies. Therefore, he is entitled to the copyrights associated with the ‘Musical work’, as defined above.

The owner of the copyright in the Sound Recording has the exclusive right to:

· Make copies of the Sound Recording

· Cause the Sound Recording to be heard in public

· Communicate the Sound Recording to the Public (such as by radio, television, or internet)

· Enter into commercial rental arrangements in respect of the Sound Recording

The singers and musicians can claim a part of the Sound recording copyright if they are not paid for the task upfront. Once they get paid, they don’t hold any rights in the recording unless there is a written contract stating otherwise.

The author should usually have put in creative skill and effort in creating the work. When you perform someone else’s creative work, you are just a performer and not the author. The requirement of ‘composition and creation’ means that a person must provide a significantly original contribution to the creation of the musical work and/or lyrics in order to be recognized as the co-author of the work. For example, Ilaiyaraaja sir himself cannot claim copyright for the songs he has sung for Yuvan or Karthick’s compositions, provided he was paid for the task, as he is only a performer in this instance.

Performing rights are the right to perform music in public. It is part of copyright law and demands payment to the music’s composer/lyricist and publisher (with the royalties generally split 50/50 between the two). Public performance means that a musician or group who is not the copyright holder is performing a piece of music live, as opposed to the playback of a pre-recorded song. Performances are considered "public" if they take place in a public place and the audience is outside of a normal circle of friends and family, including concerts, nightclubs, restaurants etc. Permission to publicly perform a song must be obtained from the copyright holder or a collective rights organization. (Copied from Wikipedia)

I will give you an example with reference to “Love and Love Only”.

As the maker of the sound recording, I hold the copyright for the sound recording. As the composer who wrote the melody and the complete score for the movie, Raaja sir holds the copyright for the Musical work. I can communicate the sound recording to the public, make copies, sell the music as the soundtrack of the movie and use it for any promotional purposes for “Love and Love Only”.

However, if I decide to run a commercial stage show (selling concert tickets) with a Symphony orchestra playing the complete score of my own film, I would have to seek separate permission from Raaja sir and share the profits with him. But if Raaja sir decides to use the same tune for another Indian film, he doesn’t need my permission, as he is the copyright holder of that melody. That would be a totally separate sound recording paid for by the producer of that Indian film. But that producer cannot use the sound recording of “Love and Love Only” as is.

Those who have bought the Music CDs of “Love and Love Only” can check the back cover for clarification. It would have ‘JUVI Digital Co’ next to a P within a circle, and Raaja sir’s name next to a C within a circle, and they refer to two distinct rights. Those who don’t have the CD can check that here.

All these rights could be transferred to third parties through written contracts. When written contracts aren’t made, this is how the copyrights are to be split by default, and this is how it is supposed to work. Please feel free to ask for any clarifications, and I shall research further for you. And, please avoid verbal abuse on social media without proper research and understanding.


Julian Karikalan

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