Give them their fair share

Rang De Basanti was a hit musical in India and the songs from the album were massively popular. Among the songs was one soulful melodious song called “Lukka Chuppi“, sung by A R Rahman and the legendary Lata Mangeshkar. Google the song name and you get two YouTube video results at the top. The first one is posted by the film production company UTV Motion Pictures and the second by the user “pradipsoman”. Checkout the stats of this second song and it’s almost half the hits that the official video has got – 493,710 viewers.

This is a cover version of the song sung by playback singer Pradip Somasundaran and Kuhoo Gupta. Go through the comments section of the video and you get to see people commenting that the ‘cover’ version has outdone the original. But despite being hugely popular, the singers Pradip and Kuhoo cannot earn a dime off their half a million strong viewership because they do not hold the ‘worldwide distribution rights to everything in the video’. Go further and search for the user George Kuruvilla in YouTube. George has at least two YouTube videos which have crossed the 200,000 mark. Yet, George too cannot make a penny because of the same YouTube rules.

World over people like Pradip and George produce music videos with so much effort. Some of them, like Justin Bieber, do get lucky but luck that is. They spend money on studio-quality microphones, recording software and other gear, they record themselves and do many takes and retakes to put it to perfection and they also do the job of mixing and mastering the track. These professional and not-any-less-than-a-professional musicians deserve to earn for all their hard work, yet YouTube and the music industry turn their back on them when it comes to internet revenue sharing based on AdSense.

Why talk about revenue sharing, the industry does not let you post your cover versions even without any commercial interest. Several tracks of the users in the websites like 4shared and Soundcloud are being moved offline or blocked by citing the lack of copyright ownership or the copyright claim by some label/agency. This is when the cover artists have given the original credits where it is due. What is next? You can’t even hum a favorite song of yours without prior approval from music labels?

So, the cover artists also need to be paid for their work. Perhaps YouTube and the music industry should come in terms where a percentage of the AdSense income from these music videos would go to the original copyright owner/music label and a percentage that originally would have gone to the original singers, recordists and mixing engineers would go to the cover artist and his/her team. That is not asking for too much, that is just asking for their fair share, for all the work that goes into a home-recording song production.

6 thoughts on “Give them their fair share”

  1. Interesting perspective, Jo. Similar thoughts have crossed my mind regarding the Carnatic krithis too. The same krithi could be sung in 100000 different ways by 100000 different artists. I have seen different Carnatic musicians releasing their own version of these krithis in different CDs. For example, if you google Pancharatna krithi CDs, you will get the same set of krithis sung by different artists in different ways. I believe they are a form of covers too. I have always wondered about the copyright issues in those cases. I am not sure as how exactly this works in case of physical CDs. Just thinking aloud :)

  2. Good point there, Soumya. :-) Yeah, these are all sort of cover versions as you mentioned. Karnatik krithis or Beethoven or Mozart. So when these artists can make a living without worrying about the copyright information, why not the film cover versions too? :-) But the key is to add one’s own signature to the cover versions, like the case of krithis you mentioned. In all those reality television, they want the contestants to sing exactly as the original which is bad IMO.

  3. I whole-heartedly agree.

    In a similar vein… I also think that the definition for online piracy needs to be looked into. These days, any product (show, music, book) that is not instantly available to all parts of the world will be susceptible to piracy. It is not because the world is full of pirates trying to mooch of the original work and the artist. It is mainly because of the lack of availability through proper channels. If a book or a move is available on the internet for a fee, most people are more than happy to pay and use.

    Instant or on-demand entertainment is the way forward. I really hope that the record companies and big production houses see reason — soon.

  4. I completely agree with the reality show part. I guess, if you add your own flavor to a cover version such as giving a totally different style of instrumental arrangement and using a few aalaaps in singing there may not be a copyright issue. I am sure there are many who release different cover versions with their own improvisations to make money out of it like Shankar Tucker (he has originals too) and Penn Masala to name a few. This is exactly what is being portrayed in Music Mojo too.

  5. Preethi – Yes, the digital medium has to be taken seriously by these production houses and music labels. Otherwise, there is no point in complaining of piracy. The scene will have to change, I think. Kamal’s decision to release Vishwaroopam through DTH was a start.

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