Bollywood music professionals fight for royalties

MUMBAI: Music composers and lyricists in India's Hindi-language film industry have joined forces to fight for better pay, copyright and royalties on their work.

Leading Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar is among those campaigning for a change, which involves a legal battle in the courts against big music labels.

"This move has just been initiated by all of us and we hope to get fair rights and money for our songs," he said.

The average Bollywood "masala" film has at least six songs and a dramatic score which very often determines whether a movie will be a hit or a flop.

But the pay rates often have nothing to do with how a film fares at the box office. Composers and lyricists now want this to change and to retain the rights over their work.

A lyricist can be paid anything from 100 dollars to 10,000 dollars for one song, depending on how well known they are. Composers -- also referred to as music directors -- can be paid between 20,000 and 400,000 dollars per film.

Film producers set the rates of pay, then sell the songs to music companies which retain the sole copyright on sales and digital rights and earn lifetime royalties.

Legendary music director A.R. Rahman, who won two Oscars this year for his work on the hit film "Slumdog Millionaire," was the first composer to challenge the system.

He insisted on a clause in his contract that he would retain the rights over his songs and refused to compose for producers if he was not allowed to perform them at live concerts without permission.

As a result, he refused to write for the Shahrukh Khan blockbuster "Om Shanti Om" in 2007, which became one of Bollywood's top grossing films ever.

"I didn't do the film because it is difficult for me to perform my own songs at stage shows because I don't have the necessary permission to perform," Rahman said at the time.

Top music director Sajid Ali said composers and lyricists are now taking Rahman's lead, feeling they are not getting their dues and that their work is going unrecognised by the public in the star-driven industry.

"Rahman was smarter than all of us," said Ali, who performs with his brother Wajid in the musical duo Sajid-Wajid. "He knew about these things much ahead of us as we were not educated enough but now we, too, have awoken.

"All over the world music directors and lyricists have rights over their songs but it is only in India that we don't. The music companies cannot earn royalties all their lives on our hard work."

Another top lyricist, Sameer, who goes by one name, said: "We sat with music companies and tried to explain our viewpoint but no one was willing to listen."

He said that is why the musicians were going to court "to find a permanent solution to this problem."

India's music industry is worth an estimated 151 million dollars and is projected to grow to 216 million dollars by 2013, according to a KPMG report on the country's entertainment industry.

Bollywood tunes are among the biggest sellers, topping music charts and available in a number of formats, including as ringtones in India's burgeoning mobile phone sector.

Composers and lyricists have blamed industry bodies for not addressing the situation but they say their hands are tied.

Phonographic Performance Ltd, which represents the big music labels, says it is only looking after its members' interests.

The Indian Performing Right Society, which represents songwriters and artistes, said it sympathised but was only collecting royalties on behalf of the film producers, who own the intellectual property rights.

"We cannot decide who the legal owners of the rights are as that's not our job," Rakesh Nigam, an official of the organisation, was recently quoted as saying by the DNA newspaper.