Event, copyright firms spar over Bollywood songs at weddings



The public notice issued by the Department for Promotion, Industry and Internal Trade is a blow to the music industry facing minuscule revenues from streaming services, radio and television and battling piracy, say copyright societies.

NEW DELHI : A recent government notice saying Bollywood songs can be played at weddings without a copyright licence has revived an age-old tussle between the event management industry and music copyright societies.

The public notice issued by the Department for Promotion, Industry and Internal Trade is a blow to the music industry facing minuscule revenues from streaming services, radio and television, and battling piracy, say copyright societies. Event management companies led by the Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA), meanwhile, point out that weddings are not commercial events, and there is no provision to charge them in the Copyright Act. Meanwhile, public performances only make up 2-5% of revenues of music labels, which don’t want to make the effort to pursue these legalities.

The music copyright and licensing ecosystem in Indiais led by players such as PPL India (Phonographic Performance Ltd), IPRS (The Indian Performing Right Society Ltd) and Novex Communications.

“The Copyright Act of 1957 clearly exempts music played in weddings and religious ceremonies from licensing charges, and it is only after the covid-19 pandemic that these bodies started sending notices to five-star hotels asking for money. We welcome the notice because this coercion needed to be long stopped and we had made representations for the same," said Siddhartha Chaturvedi, founder and chief executive of Event Crafter, and a member of EEMA.

Chaturvedi added that weddings are not commercial activities and, in fact, a means for music to gain more virality among listeners. Moreover, only five-star hotels were being targeted and pressed for licences when several weddings take place at varied venues across the country every year, he said.

However, a member of a copyright body representing multiple music labels said on condition of anonymity that event and hotel management companies are working against them. “When crores can be spent on a two-day wedding, why do they need to siphon money off music labels and artistes?" the person asked.

In private consumption of music, enforcement is that much harder because of how difficult it is to track such consumption and the general reluctance among consumers to pay for music, Sandhya Surendran, a partner at legal firm BTG Legal, pointed out. “This attitude stems from a lack of awareness of how copyright law works and how easy it is to access ‘free’ music. In the US or Europe, you cannot operate a business establishment which will have music in its premises without procuring appropriate licenses, and these countries have the necessary infrastructure to support enforcement.However, that said, a wedding is not a ‘commercial’ event and is a private gathering of a limited set of people, so exempting these functions from the scope of performance royalties should technically not be such a big cause of concern given how irregular and erratic the enforcement has been," Surendran added.

To be sure, further challenges around regulating disorganized forms of music consumption arise from the reluctance of music labels to pursue the same. “Public performance only makes up 2-5% of our overall revenues. The reason labels turn a blind eye to most of this is that efforts would outweigh the returns and we can’t be running around to claim money for these things. They are impossible to monitor, so we prefer to think of it as a way for the music to gain more visibility," said a senior executive at a music label requesting anonymity.

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