In the pre-reality show era, musicians looked forward to the day they could be called a “radio artiste”. Having attained that exalted status, some would even announce the achievement prominently on their visiting cards. The prestige associated with becoming a radio artiste at the time was probably the same as winning a talent hunt is for aspiring musicians today.
But once they were declared qualified to broadcast on All India Radio (AIR) by an audition board, musicians seldom bothered to read the contracts they signed. For that matter, I doubt if anyone at AIR or Prasar Bharati has bothered for decades to read the contracts they offer to artistes. If indeed they were to study the contracts, they would realize how contrary they are to the artiste-friendly copyright laws of the land. And if the artistes were a little more careful before they signed on the dotted line, they too would be taken aback by the extent to which they are compromising themselves. Of the 16 clauses in the contract, some of the most objectionable and vague are Clauses 1, 5, 8a and 8c. Clause 1 begins as follows: “The Artist shall not solicit, receive or accept any fee or other valuable consideration from any person other than All India Radio for or in recognition of the Artist singing, performing or having sung or performed or promising to sing or perform any particular items, song or musical work... during this engagement” Since the term of the engagement is not specified, what could this possibly mean for classical musicians? If an artiste records Raga Yaman for AIR, is he or she not entitled to perform Raga Yaman anywhere else? For how long must he or she refrain from doing so? Would it be fine if he or she performed it but didn’t accept any money for it? Clause 5 declares, tyrannically, that “All India Radio shall have the absolute right of rejection of all or any part of the entertainment submitted by the Artist and shall not be called upon to give any reasons for any such rejection. Should the Station Director reject all or any part of such entertainment the Artist shall with all despatch submit other matter or material in place of that rejected for the approval of All India Radio.” I suspect that since no one bothers to read this clause, its implications have remained uncontested. Most broadcast material is recorded in the AIR studios under the supervision of programme officers, so if there was anything wrong with the material in the first place, there would be ample scope for rectification. Complete rejection, and that too without providing any reason, is totally unjustified.
Clause-bound: Begum Akhtar at an AIR recording session. Hindustan Times
Clause 8c states that AIR can release the material it records in any format by paying an amount not exceeding ... (the) basic fees (that it pays) to the artist. Indeed, AIR has released a lot of archival material commercially, some with stellar performances but poor production value. But it has defaulted on its own contractual terms several times. One such case is that of veteran tabla player Shashikant Shridhar Mulye. Mulye is featured on the DVD and CD releases of AIR recordings by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, but three-and-a-half years after the launch, he is still waiting to be paid. In a display of scant respect for artistes, his letters to Prasar Bharati and the directors of Mumbai and Pune AIR stations remain unanswered. Mulye’s is by no means the only case and one can only hope that the government amends the Indian Copyright Act and persuades its broadcasting corporations to be fair to artistes.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org