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Decoding the Indian Singers Right Association (ISRA)



ISRA CEO Sanjay Tandon, talks about the struggles that went behind bringing about copyright administration in India, royalty issues, and all about his 3 decade long roller-coaster ride in this two part series with Music Plus.

If creativity is one side of the struggle, protecting that creative piece of work is the other. In a time when the whole country including the government was oblivious to copyrights and copyright administration, Sanjay Tandon pioneered the copyright administration movement in India making ends meet that nobody thought would.

His brain child, the Indian Singer’s Rights Association (ISRA) was a cumulative result of his three decade long experiences in the industry as he developed the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) while being a copyright consultant to top artists like Lata Mangeshkar, Sonu Nigam, Asha Bhosle, Javed Akhtar, and Sunidhi Chauhan amongst others. His perseverant struggle in getting singers their royalties and copyright their works finally yielded well in 2012 after a 20 year long ordeal, when the Copyright Act made the necessary amendments to finally grant singers the right to royalty. Today, Tandon’s ISRA stands as probably the first and only registered copyright society by the Central Government after the amendments to the Copyright Act.



When I started this copyright administration in our country, in August 1990, nobody in India knew about copyright. So, when I took up IPRS in 1990, the first thing I did was meeting the members themselves because nobody knew what was happening. I had to conduct a lot of workshops to educate these people about their rights because they presumed everything belonged to the producer. I had to also educate the users, the public, because at that time the whole industry was up in arms against IPRS.

Then I had to educate the government and get them to play a more active role in copyright enforcement. I got the copyright advisory council made by the Government of India, to get everyone under one board. My main aim and objective, is to ensure that artists are protected. They must get their copyright from whom so ever. Therefore, when we got to learn that music companies are taking away the rights, Javed sahaab and I got together, and you can see the result (i.e. change in the law).

So, the same position is with respect to ISRA. We started ISRA in 2002, and my first aim was to gather people together. Now we have the who’s who of the singing world with us from north, south, east, and west. We have on board S.P Balasubramaniam, Gurdas Maan, Usha Uthup, etc. So, it was good, I loved every moment of it and I’m still loving it because I don’t know anything else other than copyright administration.

ISRA distributing money to concern people


The Struggle 

One thing is and should be clear, the performer’s rights have been first recognised by the Indian Copyright Law, in the year 1995. But the law was not comprehensive and turned out to be a waste. Sonu ji, Lata ji, and I were fighting for this from 1990. Lata ji and I had gone for a conference, and there a minister who stood up during his interaction said that singers are mere “vocal instruments” and that really caught us off. We got together here in Mumbai at Alka ji’s place and we decided and resolved that we are going to fight this out. We were no more interested in being vocal instruments. That was when the entire struggle for getting singers their rights started. Lata ji, Sonu ji and AlkaYagnik ji, and I got together and started this fight which resulted in the 2012 amendments being brought about and the singers now get their right to royalty.

The singers’ right is now a special right and different from copyright. It is also different from the rights which the law has given to the composer, songwriter, the music company, or the film director. For the user and the world it means a cost escalation. So just like sales tax was incorporated in the cost structure after which came service tax, you can’t say that just because one paid sales tax one will not pay service tax. It is an additional cost. Similarly, for acquisition of content, ISRA is now an additional cost. You cannot say you paid IPRS ₹100. So you go and take your share from IPRS. There is no sharing because the law is very clear both are separate. Everybody has to have their own royalty. So that’s where it is and that is how we are implementing it.

The Tariff Structure

All that ISRA is implementing now is that the singer has the right to royalty which I call an R3 right. It has the right to receive royalty which ISRA is claiming from places where his/her song is being played. Here song means, voice. If there is an instrumental music being played, ISRA does not come into being and same is the case with live performances. You don’t have to take ISRA’s permission. However, if you are playing a recorded song, a recorded music, of say an Arijit Singh or a Mohommed Rafi or Lata Mangeshkar, you need a clearance from ISRA by paying the necessary royalty. To make the payment of royalty, there is a list of 22 tariffs that are there on ISRA‘s website. So, there is a tariff for the restaurants and pubs which play music, there is a separate tariff for DJ’s who play music, there is a tariff for shops, a separate tariff for sporting events etc. Even the teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL) pay us right now on the basis of per seating capacity in the stadium. They pay ISRA ₹1.6 per seat on the total capacity of the stadium. For an event, the tariff will be based on the magnitude of the event. For restaurants it is an annual charge. We charge them the price of their cheapest drink on the menu card. So, if the cheapest drink in the restaurant is Rs. 25 the royalty they owe us is Rs 25 multiplied by 365. This is all that has to be paid for the full year.

…to be continued.

Music Plus Team

Author: Music Plus Team

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