The Copyright Act, 1957 in India provides the following definitions for:
COMPOSER: “composer”, in relation to a musical work, means the person who composes the music regardless of whether he records it in any form of graphical notation;
PRODUCER: “producer”, in relation to a cinematograph film or sound recording, means a person who takes the initiative and responsibility for making the work;
Mr. Ilaiyaraja is a renowned music composer from South India with some of the finest music compositions credited to his name. Agi Music Sdn. Bhd. (“Agi Music”) is a record label and music publishing company while Echo Recording Company Pvt. Ltd. (“Echo”) is a recording company engaged in purchasing ‘sound recordings’ from producers of cinematograph films and using the same to manufacture cassettes and compact discs for sale. Recently, the Madras High Court decreed together 2 cases of copyright infringement in music works and sound recordings between these parties. The entire case revolves around the ownership of the Intellectual property in the music compositions/musical works of Ilaiyaraja.
According to Ilaiyaraja, he had assigned all the rights in his music compositions to his wife who then licensed the music works for use to Agi Music, in return of certain royalties to be paid to Ilaiyaraja. Since no Term was stipulated in the assignment agreement with his wife, according to Ilaiyaraja, the statutory term of 5 years was to apply to it by default and the Assignment Agreement was to come to an end in 5 years, i.e. by 2012. Ilaiyaraja contends that Agi Music has continued to exploit his work unfairly and even after the lapsing of the agreements.
The Madras High Court ruled in favour of Mr. Ilaiyaraja stating that the Assignment Agreement and Sound Recording Licensing Agreement (SRLA) were both valid. It dismissed the suit by Agi Music stating that since the Term of the Assignment Agreement is determined as per the provisions of Section 19(5) of the Copyright Act, 1957, a term of 5 years only will be applied to it and no implied term beyond this stipulated period can be read into the SRLA.
Against Echo, Ilaiyaraja contended that he had not permitted Echo to exploit his works at all. Ilaiyaraja contended that he was the owner of the copyright in the music composed by him which was being used as ‘sound recordings’ in several cinematographic films. Echo countered Ilaiyaraja’s claim stating that it had obtained licenses/assignments for the ‘sound recordings’ based on the ‘musical works’ of Ilaiyaraja from various producers of the films, who, according to it, are the owners of the recordings.
The Madras High Court ruled that even though the composer is the owner of the music compositions he creates, he cannot be considered to have rights in the ‘sound recordings’. It was further observed that, by default, the copyright in the sound recordings lies with the Producer unless the Agreement specifically contains a provision to the contrary. The Madras High Court ruled that even though the composer is the owner of the music compositions he creates, he cannot be considered to have rights in the ‘sound recordings’. It was further observed that, by default, the copyright in the sound recordings lies with the Producer unless the Agreement specifically contains a provision to the contrary. At the same time, the Court reiterated the provisions of the statutory moral rights of the composer in his works, which he cannot be deprived of. This is a partial win-win for both, the composers and the producers. While the producers have the liberty to use the music by customising it for their films etc. and the composer keeps receiving royalties for the same.
Compiled by: Adv. Sachi Kapoor | Concept & Edited by: Dr. Mohan Dewan
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.