'We took IPL teams to the court'
...says Sanjay Tandon, the CEO and founder-director of ISRA (Indian Singers' Rights Association), whose organisation claims royalty for the singers
Did you know that singers can claim royalty for their songs? "This is something we're trying to spread awareness about," says Sanjay Tandon, the CEO and founder-director of ISRA (Indian Singers' Rights Association), whose organisation conducted its first royalty distribution in Chennai last week, which was attended by many popular singers, including veterans like Yesudas and SP Balasubrahmanyam.
At the event, where as much as Rs 51 lakh was distributed, Yesudas said, "We've only cared about the sruthi and thalam in the songs and not about the money. My guru once said, 'Lakshmi kooda varuva, aana vituduva. Saraswati vida maata'. I believe it today as well. I'm glad that they've recognised our work, as in those days, the composer and lyricist alone mattered." Singer SP Balasubrahmanyam echoed this and added, "When people know our value, we'll get what we deserve. But those who've sung just one or two songs are also playback singers and once they enter this industry, they can't think of any other career. This didn't happen overnight and even we weren't sure about the legalities but now I can see that the movement has received momentum and I'm happy that even they're getting recognised."
Speaking about the initiative, Tandon says, "Lata Mangeshkarji, Sonu Nigamji, Alka Yagnikji and I started this struggle as early as in the 90s to ensure that singers get respected as crucial contributors. Earlier, singers were considered only as vocal instruments and this perception hurt the entire community. Songs are made unique by the expression and style of each singer, and not everyone can be one," he says.
The big breakthrough happened in 2012 when the copyright act changed and singers, for the first time, were given the right to receive royalty from commercial use of their songs. But that came with a new set of challenges for the ISRA. "It's a difficult task for an artist from one region to keep track of their song being played somewhere else in the country. And it's not like a lot of people are conscientious enough to pass on due royalty to a singer in Mumbai for usage of their song," says Tandon. That necessitated the creation of an organised body. "The veteran singers all got together and formed ISRA in 2013, a year after the law was passed. We're also the first copyrights society of the country," he says.
From 2015, after two years of diligent member acquisition, the association started sending out notices to big players who used these songs. "Radio stations, TV channels, and music platforms like Gaana and Raaga were among the first companies we approached. And then, of course, came the others like IPL who were clearly using songs for commercial purposes." Following the claims, CSK, he reveals, paid their due. "The other teams didn't, but we got the dues the very next year from all of them, after taking them to court. "All the teams are owned by corporates who can very much afford to pay up. After I got an injunction against them, they offered to pay up in about three hours."
ISRA also collects money from gyms, amusement parks, restaurants and departmental stores. "From the coming year, we will be targetting radio stations and TV channels. We've given them ample time to understand regulations, and if they won't adhere to law, we'll take them to court and make sure they do," says Tandon.
Tandon doesn't think that this affects composers. "The song belongs to the composer and lyricist, who share half of the revenue with the music label they give the track to. The royalties are different, and the new law promulgated on June 21, 2012, stipulates that singers also get it," explains Tandon.
He has no qualms about sharing numbers. "We charge Rs 1.61 per seat for events. If a CSK match is happening in MA Chidambaram Stadium which has a capacity of 50,000 seats, they'll have to pay us Rs 80,500 for playing as many songs as they want. We ask for the song list to be shared, so those singers can be compensated." He says that a veteran singer gets paid as much as a newbie. "We have different tariffs for places like discotheques, airports, and ships," he says.
ISRA intends to take this cause up far more seriously in the coming years. "We're expecting an amount of Rs 1.2 crore the coming year and when TV channels and radio stations start abiding, we think this number could rise up to Rs 100 crore per year," says Tandon.