PPL, broadcasters head for showdown over music copyright

MUMBAI: The Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL) is threatening to take broadcasters to court over what they term rampant copyright infringement by television channels and it is certainly not music to anybody's ears.

PPL, the copyright society that administers broadcasting and public performance rights of its member-companies' sound recordings, has alleged that that except for NDTV and Sahara, none of the broadcasters have obtained a licence from it to air copyrighted musical properties.

Talking to, Phonographic Performance Ltd. CEO Vipul Pradhan alleged that broadcasters have been simply ignoring the organisation's repeated requests to obtain licences for using the musical properties owned by PPL's member-companies.

According to Pradhan, if in a TV serial, for example, during a religious scene a holy song is being played from a popular film, then a licence needs to be obtained for doing so.

"Now, the broadcaster who airs the show would argue that the onus of obtaining the copyright for the song played is on the production house. But, according to the law, it is the other way around. A broadcaster should be making sure that the production house has obtained a licence before airing the show," explained Pradhan, adding that PPL is contemplating legal action.

That's not how Sony Entertainment Television sees it though. When asked to respond to PPL's charges, a company spokesperson said, "Producers of our shows have the onus to take responsibility for obtaining all the relevant permissions. We have adequate checks and balance in place to help ensure we always comply with relevant regulations. SET is a law-abiding organisation and always supports the music and entertainment industry."

Pointing out that the onus of acquiring a licence lies on the user, not on the copyright holder, Pradhan said that PPL had been making all possible efforts to open up a constructive dialogue with broadcasters, but in vain for the last 18 months.

He alleged that the broadcasters were "simply refusing" to even have a meeting with representatives of PPL.

"Broadcasters are aware of the copyright rules, but have been carrying on under the impression that the law won't take its course. They have been giving silly excuses too. So fed up are we that we are planning to file cases against the broadcasters," Pradhan hits out against TV channels.

How does the licensing work? There is a show-based licence scheme. This allows an organisation to use musical properties for a particular show. Here, the cost is based on the number of clippings used for a show. According to PPL, per clipping is priced at Rs 25,000. If bulk buying is done, then the rates come down.

Surprisingly, though there is a provision for a 'blanket licence', enabling unlimited usage of clipping(s), PPL couldn't provide the price for such a licence, saying that the figure would change according to an organisation's requirement. "The international norms suggest that, a certain percentage of the organisation's revenue should be paid to the licensing authority as the licence fee for the musical property the organisation uses," is what PPL offered on this matter.

PPL feels that big broadcasters like Star and Sony Entertainment TV, which have an international presence, should be obtaining a blanket licence. PPL trades clippings to news channels at reduced rate as they are non-entertainment in nature and requirements are less.

What is interesting here is that the Indian Performing Right Society Limited (IPRS), which owns the copyrights of literary musical and dramatic works, has joined issue with the broadcasters on similar lines to that adopted by PPL.

It too, has alleged that some media organisations have been irresponsibly using properties copyrighted with them without obtaining proper licence.

"Some broadcasting companies have been behaving as if they have rights to violate the copyright rule," IPRS CEO Rakesh Nigam told Though, the organisation, unlike PPL, does not have any immediate plans to take legal recourse, it would be providing all possible co-operation to PPL on the issue.

"Right now, we are observing the developments. We have a strong case and will wait for a proper time to move the courts," warns Nigam.

What do some other broadcasters have to say about the whole thing, which also had its echo when private FM radio stations were set up?

Essel Group corporate brand development head Ashish Kaul said that nobody has contacted Zee Telefilms till date on the issue of licences to be obtained for musical properties where the copyright lies elsewhere. "We are completely unaware of the whole issue," he added.

When contacted, an executive from the Star India too, said that the company hasn't received any official communication from PPL regarding a case or licences to be obtained for copyright material.

"Without knowing exactly what PPL's allegations are, we can't comment further on this issue. We could take a stance after getting a clear picture of the allegations being made by PPL," the Star executive added.

As the tussle goes on in the industry, PPL's Pradhan said that while action is likely to be initiated against bigger companies, an education campaign would be started for smaller organisations, like cafes, restaurants and hotels, which also violate copyright rules.

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