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The spat between Aamir Khan and Javed Akhtar over whether actor or lyricist should get the credit for the success of a film song, actually takes away from the larger issue of the amendments that have been proposed to the Copyright Act, 1957. The proposed amendments, cleared on December 24 last by the Union cabinet for introduction in Parliament, aim at removing some glaring lacunae in the Act that did not give any ownership right to film directors, lyricists, singers and composers over the magic they create. Because of this, only the film producers and music companies earn all the royalty year after year from the re-runs, telecasts and DVD/CD sales of films and music albums, even as the creative talent gets a one-time payment foregoing any right over what they have created.

The proposed amendments envisage making a film director ‘joint author’ of a film along with the producers and giving ‘independent rights’ to authors of literary and musical works in films. Any right thinking person would welcome this, since it is the talent of these creative people that gives shape to either a film or a music album. The present lacunae in the Act can be best described by the example of composer A R Rahman. He holds the rights to all his compositions in the Oscar-winning ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ which means that he would earn royalty whenever a CD of the film’s music is sold anywhere, or a song or a part of it is downloaded legally onto a laptop, a mobile device or an iPod, or played on television or radio. On the other hand, he would not earn a single paisa in royalties for his large body of work in Indian films on sale of DVDs or albums, apart from the one-time fees.

This has resulted in music companies continuing to make money out of classic songs of yesteryears played and replayed on radio and even restaurants, while the families of the singers and composers are forced to live in penury. Understandably, the lyricists and composers are supporting the proposed amendments wholeheartedly. Film producers too should support them, since they will only have to share the earnings and not absolutely forgo it. Clearly, it’s time to give the creative talents their rightful due.

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