Why these loopholes in public performance licensing?

While the piece I did on the potential of public performance collection had some interesting reactions, ranging from “Wow, this consolidation should happen” to “Bah!”, my friend Achille Forler, one of the publishing gurus in India and someone who has been a pillar of strength for authors and composers for many years, had a very interesting take on it. Having far more experience than me in the matter of societies setting rates, he figures that just IPRS could potentially be looking at Rs. 6,300 crores if the Asian average of per capita music consumption is used!! As I said earlier, these are not business plans for investors, just indicators for people to see what gigantic potential there is in public performance collection.

And those numbers could be far, far greater if the people who pass legislation ensuring royalties to creators, performers and owners did not try to bypass their own laws and help others circumvent them! Puzzled?

A notification issued by the Copyright Office on August 27, 2019 states that a music license is not required for “the performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work or the communication to public of such work or of a sound recording in the course of any bona fide religious ceremony or an official ceremony held by the Central Government or the State Government or any local authority”. Neat. There are two exemptions here, one for any event that is tagged a religious ceremony which includes a marriage and “other social festivities associated with a marriage”, as also any official government function.

This notification was apparently required as the Copyright Office had a lot of queries coming in around Section 52 of the Act, which deals with music license exemptions or the kind of usage that is not an infringement if no licenses were taken to play music. And this, mind you, it’s not something that found its way into the Act in 2012. It’s been there since 1994. Thank you, Hardeep Anand, for educating me about this.

I’ve always said that the Copyright Act is merely common sense put down on paper but the exceptions here are making me quickly have a rethink. Exceptions actually stem from ‘fair use’ of music, a term coined in the U.S. and is, in essence, for educational purposes that are not for profit. So when music is being taught, researched, critiqued, reported on or in the course of a court hearing (isn’t that marvellous detailing?) etc a license is not required. But where exactly does a government function fit into all this? I just don’t get the logic and would be delighted if someone explained it to me.

Why deny royalty for music played at government meetings?

If governments meet to discuss matters of international, national or state importance, why the devil are they playing music? And if they are playing music, why deny royalties to an R.D. Burman or Jagjit Singh’s estates or to Saregama or T Series when their sound recordings are used? Government functions are held, day in and day out. So no licenses to be taken yet music to be played, for indeterminate purpose! Yet they pass laws making it illegal for any other organisation to not pay public performance royalties! Not just that, look at the extension of exemptions to an “official ceremony of any local authority”. Who defines what a local authority is since it’s not in the Act? Does the presence of a government functionary make a function official? My fear is that this will generate a lot of subterfuge to avoid public performance licensing, instead of large revenues for the music industry.


It’s a novel exception as I don’t think there is a parallel anywhere except in the US Copyright Act but that is very different, as it pertains more to digital dissemination of music and horticultural fairs.

If the intent of the August 27, 2019 notice was to provide clarity, why mostly reproduce words from the Act instead of actually issuing clarifications on some of the stuff I’ve mentioned? And to think that the Copyright Act was amended in 2012 to ensure royalties were paid fairly to composers, authors, and performers!

Yet, that’s not the half of it.

The real killer is the exemption of licenses for marriages and ‘other social festivities associated with marriage’.

Seriously? The marriage industry generates over Rs. 100,000 crores (yes you read that right, over one lakh crore rupees) to the organised events sector alone!! And if music isn’t played at any of those events, I’m Winston Churchill! What a colossal opportunity loss for the music business.

And come on, don’t we all know what wedding ceremonies are all about? Sorry, make that ‘social festivities associated with marriage’ are all about? Days of partying to recorded and live music in the build-up to the great day, a 45 minute religious ceremony at best and then back to the DJs, live performers and dancing your buns off. Music, music and more music. Take it away and you would not have the ‘girls side’ and the ‘boys side’ doing Bollywood dance routines, no aunty from Canada showing off her Madhuri Dixit moves and no chachaji making Bhagwan Dada come alive (reference ‘Shola Jo Bhadke’ for the puzzled). Music makes weddings the fun they are. Take it away and watch the charm vanish.

What about the expense on the wedding and attendant functions? Who hasn’t seen clips of Bollywood celebs dancing at high profile wedding parties? Or international superstars performing at them? Does this all happen for free? Isn’t music and alcohol the backbone of it all and yes, in that order? So what’s the purpose of ensuring the music industry doesn’t get paid by its single largest user?

Yes, the religious ceremony itself (those life changing 45 minutes) is exempt and not just in India. And yes, the wedding procession (baaraat) is also exempt when brass bands are playing Bollywood numbers. Which is fair. But seriously, all other festivities? Somebody please give me an ounce of logic. Reports differ but there seem to be 10 million weddings taking place every year in India. If each, on an average, paid only Rs. 2,000/- for playing music, that’s another Rs. 2,000 crores to an industry that’s currently Rs. 1,068 crores!! Of course, we know that the number should be closer to Rs. 20,000/- per wedding but let’s not go there because somebody is sure to say, “Bah!”

multi percussionist

So if you want to avoid taking a music license for your next party, put up a sign saying it’s a pre-marriage event. Or even better let’s also throw in the pre-divorce party! After all it is associated with marriage, isn’t it? As is child birth, a sister-in-law’s birthday (I wouldn’t have known her if I hadn’t got married) and the party to celebrate my father-in-law’s new business deal (same logic). Hopefully that sounds as ridiculous to you as these exemptions do to me. Sometimes I think the government deliberately creates such laws and ‘clarifications’ to give more business to lawyers. After all, it’s supposed to be business focussed!

To end on a serious note. This Section 52 of the Act needs to be re-examined with proper mind put to it so that its intent is clear and it is spelled out unequivocally. There’s surely a way to do this without the music industry having to run to court and coming across as the villain once again. But it’ll need a hero from the government’s side to take up the responsibility and prove that we do indeed recognise and respect intellectual property beyond rewriting laws with meaningless words.

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