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Was Ilaiyaraaja right to sue SP Balasubrahmanyam? Celebs weigh in

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 20-03-2017 manoj kumar r
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Legendary playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam on Sunday enthralled the audience of his sell-out music tour, SPB 50, in San Jose with all non-Ilaiyaraaja songs. The singer is currently touring the world along with a few other popular musicians to celebrate 50 years of playback singing. Hours before his performance, SPB took everyone by surprise by revealing that he has received a legal notice from his long-time friend Ilaiyaraaja that restricts him from signing the songs composed by the latter.

The issue has also started a serious discussion in the industry about the country's copyright law and how much of it is followed by the big players. Talking to a news website, music maestro Ilaiyaraaja's copyright consultant said music composers don't get a penny while singers make a lot of money singing their songs on commercial shows.

"We are not compelling orchestras or musicians who are surviving on Ilaiyaraaja’s music to pay up royalties. We are only concentrating on people who are earning lakhs or crores by using his creations. SPB is not doing charity shows. They are minting money and the composer doesn’t get 1 rupee. It is his work and creation,” Ilaiyaraaja’s copyrights consultant E Pradeep Kumar told The News Minute.

Lyricist Madhan Karky has backed Ilaiyaraaja's action in respect to the copyright law. However, he also noted that the music maestro could have handled the situation rather differently, given his decades-old friendship with SPB. "Seeing with the lens of law, what Raja sir did is right. A song is owned by the composer, lyricist and producer. Seeing with the eyes of friendship, it doesn’t seem right. A call instead of a legal notice may have sorted things smoothly. Whenever a song is played or performed outside a cinema hall, for public, royalties for that song will be collected and distributed to composer, lyricist and producer," Karky wrote on his Facebook page.

"Royalty societies like IPRS will collect such royalties and distribute. Even if Raja sir has not permitted an organisation like IPRS to manage his royalties, and is managing by himself, he still does not own the song completely. Even if Raja sir is performing in a public event, the royalties for those songs should go to the respective lyricists and producers also," he noted.

"If the writers or producers send a legal notice to him, he will not be able to perform the songs without their prior permission. I am happy that Raja sir is taking this issue to a bigger stage, even if it is bitter to many, so we can get together to understand royalties," he added.

There is clearly more to the issue than what meets the eye. However, not everyone shares Karky's rationality in the issue. Talking to a Tamil news channel, Ilaiyaraaja's brother Gangai Amaran, termed the music director's decision to sue SPB as "foolishness."

SPB, as part of his world tour that is organised by his son SPB Charan, has already performed several shows in India, before enthralling his fans in Russia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai. But, Ilaiyaraaja decided to send legal notice during the singer's US leg because of the country's strict copyright rules, said sources.

Given that SPB has sung nearly 40,000 songs, the event organisers has nothing to worry about. They can hold hundreds of such tours sans Ilaiyaraaja's timeless classic songs and the show will go on. But, will Ilaiyaraaja's bold move encourage others to follow the suit? Only time will tell.

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