Who owns Sheila's jawani? PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 27 December 2010 00:00
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That's what composers Vishal-Shekhar and lyricists Anvita/Vishal/Shirish are asking
Mobile phone firms are selling song ringtones like hot cakes. Why shouldn't the composers, lyricists and singers get part of this fast-growing pie?
This is not about whether Sheila ki jawani is hotter than Munni badnaam hui, though it’s pretty obvious a Katrina Kaif can hardly compete with a Malaika Arora Khan when it comes to sex appeal. The issue will be finally settled, not on Tees Maar Khan’s release date last Friday, but in the weeks to come—not in the box office, but in the offices of Airtel and Reliance Communications, based on the number of ringback caller tunes, even video downloads they sell of the two hottest songs Bollywood has come up with in recent times.
As telcos across the country sell caller tunes in zillions, the question being asked is whether all the money from this new-found source should go to the film’s producers and music companies, or whether the composers and lyricists should also get a piece of the pie? That’s after telcos like Airtel have taken out what many consider an unconscionable share out of this—typically, 70% of the Rs 10 callerback tune stays with telcos. In the current context, should the money be given to only UTV/Farah Khan/Shirish Kunder/ Akshay Kumar (the producers) or should it be equally shared with Vishal Dadlani/Shekhar Ravjiani (the composers) and Anvita Dutt/Dadlani/ Kunder (lyricists) and Sunidhi Chauhan (singer)?
A rattled industry, FE reported Friday, is planning to go on strike on January 6 if these demands are met. “This is the most anti-entertainment industry government that we have seen since Independence. Instead of doing the right thing, the government is supporting a populist agenda at the behest of some influential lyricists,” film-maker Mahesh Bhatt is quoted as saying, referring clearly to Javed Akhtar. If passed, he says, this will “kill the film industry”, destroy Bollywood and will render film-making economically non-viable for producers. With caller tunes a Rs 600-700 crore business already, and growing rapidly, it’s easy to see why Bhatt’s so agitated about giving away half the money to the likes of Javed Akhtar. Keep in mind that, according to KPMG data, the music industry is roughly a tenth of the size of the entire movie business—and the caller tune business earned more than the entire music industry last year! So we’re talking huge money here. Money that’s even huger when seen as a proportion of the bottom line.
Wow! So what exactly is it we’re talking of, and why should a Javed Akhtar, no matter how well-connected he is, be allowed to renege on a contract he has signed relinquishing all rights in favour of the film-makers who are paying him for his composition? Here’s where the question of unfair contracting comes in. Does even a Javed Akhtar have a hope in hell of being able to sign a contract that the powerful film-makers don’t like? Clearly not and, just a few days ago, the newly-elected president of the Film Federation of India (FFI), TP Agrawal, told ToI, the FFI had advised members not to employ Akhtar till the copyright business was sorted out. “If Javed wants a percentage as royalty, then he should also be liable to incur a percentage of the losses,” he said, betraying his complete contempt, apart from ignorance, of the concept of copyrights.
The principle of unequal contracting is pretty well known and, way back in 1984, the Law Commission of India spoke of contracts where it was pretty much impossible for one of the parties not to accept the other’s terms—it recommended the courts strike down parts of contracts they found unconscionable, but nothing has happened on this in the 26 years since.
It was to fix this that, a few years ago, the government said it would amend the Copyright Act of 1957. The Act got amended earlier this year, but some critical flaws remained. These then reached the Rajya Sabha’s Standing Committee, which came out with its amendments last month—this is what Bhatt thinks will rob not just Katrina Kaif, but all of Bollywood, of its jawani. The Standing Committee recommended lots of changes, but let’s focus on just the one or two that really matter. Para 18(3), which talks of “assignment of copyright”, says a composer-lyricist can get a share of royalties (what Airtel will give to UTV/Farah Khan) “from the utilisation of such work in any form other than as part of the cinematograph film or sound recording …”. Focus on the “sound recording” since this is the real killer, the “item bomb”, as it were, of the Munni number!
What that means is that if Airtel calls Sunidhi Chauhan to sing Munni badnaam hui at an event to promote its 3G video-on-demand services, Dadlani/ Dutt/Ravjiani/Kunder can get part of the money paid by Airtel—this is utilisation of their work in a non-cinematograph fashion. But if Airtel sells the ring-tone, well that’s a ‘sound recording’!
This is what the Standing Committee wants to fix, primarily, and this is what has got the industry in a tizzy. Whether the government refuses to give in to the industry’s demands is to be seen, but it’s clear that till then, the producers are going to ensure composers/lyricists/singers get precious little. While the official position is that composers/lyricists are to get 50% royalties, contracts signed by composers/lyricists with music companies clearly get them to sign away all rights. This applies to the smaller composer/lyricists as well as the bigger ones, including the Javed Akhtars. Even AR Rahman, the biggest daddy of the composing world, has to sign away his rights in India. Achille Forler, the MD of Deep Emotions Publishing, the Indian partner of Universal Music who represent Rahman globally, confirmed that they represent him all over the world, except for India. If he wants a movie in India, after all, he has no option but to sign his rights away.
As Sheila puts it, “Hey hey, I know you want it but you never gonna get it ... Tere haath kabhi na aani ... Sheila ki jawani ... Sheila ki jawani ...”

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