Kerala Kaumudi Online
Tuesday, 16 July 2024 7.47 AM IST

Rights over songs


It is an accepted fact that cinema is the director's art. Nevertheless, it cannot be forgotten that a lot of people besides the director contribute to a movie's artistic, technical, and financial success. The film rights are vested in the producer who pays the money. If the producer gives the rights of the film to the distribution company or other persons or media companies under contract, then the rights will go to the purchasers. This is the current practice. On the contrary, if a director claims that he owns the full rights to his film and the rights cannot be transferred to anyone without his permission, it will not get any legal backing. That's why no director makes such a claim. However, renowned music director Ilayaraja has always taken the stand that he has complete rights over the songs he composed.

This claim has sparked debates and rebuttals from lyricists, singers, and music directors in the film business. Numerous well-known singers have asserted that the one who sang the song so beautifully should be granted the rights to it, rather than the person who composed the music. However, some lyricists contend that the songwriters ought to receive the rights because they were instrumental in getting the songs into the minds of the people. This has been a contentious issue for some time. Now, the Madras High Court has made a clear observation on the matter. The court has clarified that the rights over the songs composed by Ilayaraja do not belong to him alone. A bench comprising Justice R Mahadevan and Justice Muhammad Sadiq opined that there is no song without lyrics and therefore, the lyricist and others can make a claim over the song.

The court was hearing an appeal filed by music company Echo in a case related to the copyright of around 4500 songs composed by Ilayaraja. Echo company had bought the copyright of the songs composed by Ilayaraja from the film producers. A single bench considered Ilayaraja's petition against this and ruled that Ilayaraja has the rights over the songs. The company then filed an appeal in the division bench against this. The company's lawyer argued that once the producer appoints a music director to compose music for the songs in the film, the producer gets the rights to the songs. The court has not made a final decision on this. The court will hear a detailed argument in the case in the second week of June.

During the hearing, the court observed that though Ilayaraja has the right over the music notes he composed, the full rights over the song are not exclusive to him. When the lawyer opined that Ilayaraja is above everyone else in the matter of song, the same bench stated that it is not right to think so. Anyway, it is hoped that the Madras High Court will issue a just verdict on the long-standing dispute. Film artists do not usually stake claims over their product after they receive payment and complete their work as per the contract. If such a right is required, it should be pointed out in the contract. Such claims will create a lot of difficulties for cinema to move forward as an industry.

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