On World Music Day, Javed Akhtar says old songs should be protected from 'vandalisation': They're our cultural heritage

On World Music Day, Indian Performing Right Society, chaired by lyricist Javed Akhtar, has launched a two-week social media campaign #CreditTheCreator.

Devansh Sharma July 01, 2020 14:41:12 IST
On World Music Day, Javed Akhtar says old songs should be protected from 'vandalisation': They're our cultural heritage

On World Music Day, 21 June, Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) has launched the #CreditTheCreator social media campaign, where its various illustrious members will participate in sessions across two weeks: to spread awareness about the creators of several treasured melodies and debunk misconceptions about the rights of performers.

When this writer reached out to Javed Akhtar, Chariman, IPRS, for an interaction, it initially seemed difficult because the lyricist is currently putting up at his Khandala property. The remote location does not offer access to sound network so he is barely managing to give interviews for his most recent achievement — being honoured with the Richard Dawkins Award.

On World Music Day Javed Akhtar says old songs should be protected from vandalisation Theyre our cultural heritage

Javed Akhtar. Twitter

But Akhtar was kind enough to send answers to my questions through audio notes. And his wife, veteran actress Shabana Azmi, was generous enough to ask questions on my behalf — and prod whenever necessary.

Do you believe India is traditionally a hero/protagonist-driven form of storytelling, and not an author-driven? For instance, Rama is much more popular than Valmiki as opposed to say, Shakespeare than Hamlet in the West?

It's totally understandable. You watch theatre, only if you're a connoisseur, or have a deep understanding about literature. But cinema is for mass communication. Not too many people are familiar with literature or its value. When they see an actor on the screen who they admire, they identify the whole film with that face. But now, people are acknowledging the other stakeholders like writers, directors, cinematographers etc.

What do you aim to achieve with the #CreditTheCreator campaign?

The idea is that the young generation should know about the great performers of yesterday, what contribution they've made to popular music, what's their identity, USP, and how they experimented with music. For example, there is a general impression that fusion music was started in the 1960s post Woodstock (music festival held in Bethel, New York in 1969). But if you listen to the music of Pankaj Malik and Anil Biswas, they were creating fusion in the '30s and '40s. They'd take a pure Indian raga, and treat it with piano, cello, double burst, and violin. In certain songs which are based on Indian ragas, they have sounds of the choir also.

In the age of social media, where covers of old songs are so popular, what do the artists and audience need to keep in mind with respect to performing rights?

We'll need another law by the government for that. Songs from the 1950s, '60s, and 70s are our cultural heritage. The ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) should see to it that these 'monuments' aren't vandalised. The songs by SD Burman, Naushad, Anil Biswas, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar or Asha Bhonsle are our cultural heritage. They should be protected.

In the name of the 'remix' of the song, they're distorted. They take the popular hook lines of the song, and put grammatically, aesthetically, technically wrong words in the new version, which distorts the song completely. I'm very unhappy with what's being done to our musical cultural heritage.

Is the idea behind this campaign also to ensure historical inaccuracies are corrected?

Obviously, when you appreciate the creation, you must appreciate the creator also. Give due respect and due credit to them.

(At this point, Azmi follows up with a cross question)

No, but what do you mean by these historical corrections?

When you listen to a song, you don't recognise the creator, or recognise the singer at the most. The young generation may not even recognise a singer from the 1940s and '50s. They should know about composers like OP Nayyar, Madan Mohan or Roshan or lyricists like Sahir Ludhianvi and Shailendra, who've done some great work.

(Azmi prods further —)

No, but how do you plan to do it? You say these corrections should be made, but how?

Any information today is a click of a button away. So if you sensitise them and bring their attention to the facts, they'll find it themselves. That won't be a problem.

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, a lot of artists are turning to virtual concerts. Are those easier to monitor in terms of performing rights since there is a record of every performance online?

I suppose so. But it's a matter of time that live shows will come back. Yes, there used to be some problems that you ask your IPRS representative to visit the user, and possibly get into an argument about the royalties, but now, everything is online. If there's a live show, the organisers need a license or permission, they can obtain it online. So there won't be any exchange of cash. If someone needs the license for a live performance, they can go on our website, check the various rates, they're very reasonable. So the entire process will be carried out in a clear and transparent manner.

On World Music Day Javed Akhtar says old songs should be protected from vandalisation Theyre our cultural heritage

Javed Akhtar. Facebook

On what fronts has the IPRS seen progress over the years? What remain key areas of development?

When we joined the IPRS governing board, the annual collection was Rs 35 crore to Rs 45 crore. But now, this year, it was almost Rs 160 crore, and it's still growing. We have better contracts in place. After the change in the law [the Copyright (Amendement) Law, 2012, which brought Indian copyright law into compliance with the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Internet Treaties], we have signed agreement with various international organisations.

They haven't only signed on the dotted line but also agreed to pay us retrospectively since the amendment in 2012. The royalty is increasing manifold. As a result, an artist who used to get a meager amount annually is getting a sizeable amount quarterly now. We have to still develop better connectivity. There are some important music companies that are still not under the realm of the law. Once those are also brought in, our royalties will take another big leap.

There is currently a growing debate around the exploitation of aspiring artists by big production houses and music companies. How do you plan to keep a check on them?

If the law has saved the rights of the royalty of the artists, the corporate giants can't exploit them on that front. The right to royalty for the composer and the lyricist can't be taken away. Any contract stating otherwise is null and void in the eyes of the law. See, royalty is different from your price. Your price may depend on your popularity but the royalty is guarded by the law. Any company, however big it may be, can't take away your right to royalty.

Do you get royalties for the songs you write for Farhan and Zoya's films? Can Excel Entertainment and Tiger Baby Films set an example in the industry for respecting performing rights?

There's a misunderstanding. It isn't the producer or the music company that gives the royalty. It's given to the IPRS by the end user. Suppose the song is played on a radio station, TV or website, they have to pay royalty to the artists. They take it to the public domain.

(Azmi chimes in —) 

But how do you track that?

There are a lot of software for that. We have an agreement with a number of companies. They keep an eye through computer programmes. Even if your song is played for 10 seconds, it'll be registered.

(Azmi digs deeper —)

What if it's a live performance?

We have an IPRS representative in almost every city. If it's a live performance, it'll be publicised. There'll be ads. So we come to know.

But what if it's a live performance, say at a wedding?

As per the current law of the country, if a song is played at a wedding, there's no royalty for that.

What if it's a mehfil, a private function with about 100 people?

Then it's okay. If it's not for commercial use, we don't mind (laughs).

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