Amid row over Indian Performing Rights Society's flawed tariff plan, opportunity to rebuild live entertainment scene

One must credit the IPRS for kickstarting this conversation and setting the ball rolling for the Indian Live Entertainment Scene 2.0.

Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri July 25, 2020 13:39:14 IST
Amid row over Indian Performing Rights Society's flawed tariff plan, opportunity to rebuild live entertainment scene

The COVID-19 lockdown has forced brands to realise the importance of the internet, to rethink their digital presence and to recalibrate business plans for the virtual platform. Various industries have been altered, some even dismantled to create new beginnings; where theF rules are constantly changing and where one can either change with them or wait endlessly for someone else to bring in a new form of stability.

The live entertainment scene in India — and the world at large — has spent the past four months in lockdown, reconciling with the fact that the very notion of “being live” has been irreversibly challenged. Musicians who have hitherto used social media platforms for cursory marketing before album launches, have come to realise that it is the only medium at their disposal to remain accessible and relevant. Many have organised concerts, streamed and uploaded new content, and learnt to optimise the benefits of digital media. Some have been business savvy while some others have shown reluctance in their understanding of how to monetise their work… all this in a climate where the audience has grown conservative in its spending habits. At a time when one’s survival is being threatened, to innovate has become the only option.

THE PLAN:

Against this tumultuous backdrop has come the Indian Performing Rights Society’s new tariff plan effective 1 July, that charges artists or organisers a performance fee irrespective of the event being free, ticketed and/or sponsored.

The IPRS is body that represents authors and owners of creative musical works, including lyricists, composers and publishers. Applicable to both musical and literary performances, this new plan levies a performance fee of Rs 20,000+taxes for two hours of livestreaming, irrespective of whether the event itself is free or ad-supported/ticketed (without a sponsor). Ticketed events with sponsors are to be levied Rs 60,000+ taxes and can go up to Rs 1 lakh if the event extends beyond two hours.

In an addendum to this notice, accessed by Medianama.com, the IPRS draws attention to the technicality that the artists and organisers could also be liable to paying synchronisation fees in the vicinity of Rs 30,000 or more per song, to the record labels that own the rights to these songs. Why it is a “technicality” is that while this is the requirement of the industry, how much it is enforced or negotiated, remains between artists and their labels. So how then does a musician look at paying such high figures, without a guarantee on returns or any idea of how well-received (in numbers and tickets) the performance would be? The IPRS has reiterated that not paying the performance fee beforehand can attract a 30 percent penalty.

THE IMPACT:

If one were to simplify the numbers and the impact on the music industry, then artists and organisers are directly hit by the reality that 1) not only are they expected to cough up large sums in a blind-leading-the-blind scenario when they are just about learning how much of their online presence can be monetised; 2) they are also put in a position where they’ll have to dig into their savings to fund themselves before they start to see any positive results. In an economic situation where most people have no clarity about how the next few quarters will be, this is not only a huge risk for the musicians, it can also have immensely detrimental effects on creativity and productivity…the very cornerstones of the artist-based industries.

Organisers and musicians aside, every agent, every roadie, every supporting act and crew member is affected when these two major stakeholders are hit. Record labels that form another crucial element in this industry, may or may not enforce the sync fee requirement but expecting them to constantly waive off this amount or give discounts on humanitarian grounds is being business naïve and rather unfair.

While major musicians can still afford to do free concerts or temporarily bank on the goodwill of their fans and royalty payments for continued support, the plan runs the risk of alienating smaller musicians and stifling them from attempting to reach out to their fans and figuring out how best they can survive in these times. When the lockdown itself has forced one to ideate and innovate, the IPRS’ plan seems to create more roadblocks than solutions.

Music is not just the purview of solo artists and bands. It finds space and resonance in virtual theatre, as background scores and literally any form of the performing arts. The performance fee coupled with the sync fee affects all those who are directly connected to these worlds.

THE CHANCE:

Yet, painting the IPRS as a villain in this development, would mean missing a crucial opportunity. Keeping the steady cashflow for its members in mind, the IPRS has earlier this month inked a music licensing deal with Facebook that covers the royalties and licences of the music represented by the body, when the social media giant’s users access their massive library on both Facebook and Instagram. So, we know that the intent for reform is good.

The plan — although protecting the interests of authors and writers of creative works and ensuring that they get their dues in this new virtual concert space — seems out of sync with the reality that confronts every player in the live entertainment space. It seems to lack the empathy required to manoeuvre through these times where apart from essential services, no one else seems to be a gainer. Not for a long while at least.

All, though, is not lost. The IPRS, sources say, is aware of the flak it has received from musicians and organisers who have been rather vocal about their views. A webinar has been organised by the IPRMENTLAW blog, a knowledge sharing initiative in the fields of intellectual property, media, and entertainment laws. The webinar would cover a spectrum of topics relating to the legal challenges faced by the music industry doing business in India. It is not connected with the IPRS, though the presence of IPRS CEO Rakesh Nigam as one of the key speakers, indicates how seriously the body takes this discourse and the stakeholders in it.

Sources say that from the feedback received, the IPRS knows that the plan in its current form is not feasible and will need a fair bit of tinkering around, as well as trial-and-error, before it becomes the norm. The IPRS has even revised its plan implementation date from July 1, 2020 to September 1, 2020, giving itself and its members enough time to fine-tune a new, holistic plan.
Can we expect a streamlining of authorities and licences to simplify the process of creating and producing live entertainment? Would a long-needed single window approach finally come to the fore? Would every single creator, performer and consumer get a fair shot at making and consuming live entertainment?

One must credit the IPRS for kickstarting this conversation and setting the ball rolling for the Indian Live Entertainment Scene 2.0. It has inadvertently pushed every stakeholder to come forth, shake off their state of inertia and honestly assess/reassess how to move forward in these unprecedented times. Not often do we get a chance to rebuild the scene. Let’s hope we don’t squander it.

— Featured image: Popular indie musician Tejas. Photo by Keshav Naik via Facebook/@musicbytejas

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