Illayaraja And the Battle for the Composers’ Right

The well-known music director Illayaraja is not just famous for his lovely tunes but also for defending his creative rights against other parties. In 2017, Raja sent the late vocalist SP Balasubramaniam a court letter prohibiting him from playing his songs in stage shows without his consent and demanded payment for performing his songs. Now, the same Illayaraja has sent a legal notice to the producer of a Malayalam movie named Manjummel Boys for using one of his songs (Kanmani Anbodu) in the film without his consent.

This brings up the legality of the composer’s rights in a musical work and raises the question of whether Illayaraja can sue or collect royalties, which could lead to a protracted legal battle over musical rights. The central issue in this field was who owns the composer or producer of a musical work. The producer will own the sound recording where the music composition and lyrics are written for the consideration of anything valuable or while working for an employer (the producer), following the landmark decision in Eastern India Motion Pictures and Ors. v. Respondent: Performing Right Society Ltd. and Ors.[i] The underlying works (music composition and lyrics) will be covered under sound recording and as per sections 17(b) and 17(c) of the Copyright Act.

The producers held the exclusive right to sound recordings made for motion pictures, according to a long-standing ruling. However, in 2012, the Copyright Act was amended to protect the rights of songwriters and composers who create underlying works. The new amendment also grants these authors certain economic rights. Before the amendment, music composers had certain rights to their work under sections 13 and 14 of the Copyright Act, but these rights were subsumed when the work was completed for a producer in exchange for payment and as his employee. In the footnote to his decision in the aforementioned case, Justice Iyer noted that producers are not required to reimburse composers for the use of their compositions.

The third and fourth provisos to section 18(1) mandate that the royalties earned by commercially exploiting the work shall be shared on an equal basis between the performer and the producer, reading the new proviso with section 39A the new law that guarantees the right to royalty to composers and lyricists for use of their outside the film, the 2012 Amendment overturned the previous position and gave composers the right to claim royalty for the use of their work

The Amendment Act of 2012 provides the authors of underlying works the right to royalties for any use of their work by others unless it is used in the same film in a theatre. Illayaraja has fought similar legal battles in the past, including Agi Music Sdn Bhd v. Illayaraja & Modern Cinema and Echo Recording Company v. Illayaraja[ii] (Civil Suit No. 308 of 2013 and Civil Suit No. 625 of 2014). The Madras High Court has noted that, in addition to having statutory moral rights, Illayaraja—also has the right to royalties in those cases.

In the cases of IPRS vs. Rajasthan Patrika Ltd. and IPRS vs. Music Broadcast Ltd.,[iii] the Bombay High Court established that the 2012 Copyright Amendment confers a substantive right on authors of underlying works to claim royalties. Additionally, the composer is entitled to royalties for any sound recording that is shared in a public domain other than the original film. Consequently, when a sound recording from a motion picture is made publicly available, the true creators composer and lyricist are eligible for payment following current legislation and recent court rulings. The assertion made by Illayaraja in the most recent issue topics fell under this category.

Manjummel Boys is not the movie for which Illayaraja Created the song titled Kanmani Anbodu and the same was created by him to use in the Movie Guna which Alamelu Subramaniam produced. Also, Illayaraja has not assigned or licenced his work to the makers of Manjummel Boys, there is no scope for conflict relating to ownership of the song between Illayaraja and the Producer of Guna movie since the producer has not assigned or licenced the song to the opposite party.

After the amendment in 2012 which recognized composers’ rights, several legal battles have been fought by music composers for the protection of their rights. However, since, the amendment of 2012 did not specify its retrospective application, there existed a doubt about whether composers who made work before the 2012 amendment would be able to enjoy the rights in the same manner. The same was made clear in Agi Music Sdn Bhd v. Illayaraja & amp; Modern Cinema and Echo Recording Company v. Illayaraja[iv] wherein it was held that the producers can claim ownership for works created before 2012 but that will only apply to cinematographic films, however, the composers have right to preclude others from using his composition otherwise like an online portal, radio stations others performance etc. Having said that a clarification relating to the proper application of the 2012 Copyright Amendment Act regarding composers’ rights can be expected in future judgements.

[i] Eastern India Motion Pictures and Ors. v. Respondent: Performing Right Society Ltd. and Ors., MANU/WB/0110/1978: AIR 1978 Cal 477

[ii] C.S.No.308 of 2013, C.S.No.625 of 2014 Madras High Court

[iii] Indian Performing Right Society Ltd. v. Rajasthan Patrika Pvt. Ltd. (IA No. 9452 of 2022) and Indian Performing Rights Society Ltd. v. Music Broadcast Ltd. (IA No. 1213 of 2022)

[iv] C.S.No.308 of 2013, C.S.No.625 of 2014 Madras High Court

Anujus Pradeep 

LLM student, Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Rights, IIT Kharagpur

Anujus is a dedicated Litigating Lawyer and Masters Student, providing legal advice on various civil, criminal, and Intellectual Property Law matters. Known for preparing detailed legal documents through thoroughly researched case law, he has a proven track record of achieving exceptional outcomes for clients. Engaged in ongoing research in Intellectual Property Law, Anujus continually enhances his ability to deliver insightful and effective legal solutions.

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