In the field of traditional Indian music, artistes have no idea of what their rights are. Artistes abroad have professional managers who specifically look into and deal with the issue. There is an entire industry built around the field of copyrights and its practices. Here we have not been trained enough, we have only learnt the various systems of music, not how to fight if our creative rights are flouted. And the flouting happens blatantly. For example, it’s a common practice in various shows to record the performances saying that they are meant for documentation and archives but they actually get sold later and the artistes are not even given a copy of the recording, leave alone their monetary share. Both big as well as small institutions do this regularly. Artistes themselves do it. They get their shows recorded without communicating it to the accompanists. Why can’t such permissions be taken prior to the programme?
When I started off I was naïve and innocent about these issues but I learnt my bitter lessons on the way. Nothing in my training had prepared me for the experiences I went through. I learnt that instead of weeping one must stand up and ask for one’s rights. No one will give them to us on a platter.
Take the case of the Mira Nair film, Kamasutra A Tale of Love. Mira had come here and asked me to sing a few pieces for the film. The CD of the original soundtrack of the film had only my pieces yet the music got credited to Michael Dana. Fortunately I had recorded some of these pieces before the film and could prove my authorship. It took four years of contesting and the patience of an angel to eventually get my due. But Dana still went ahead and used one of the Mirabai pad in some documentary. All he did was change the words. Now even if the work is my original creation the money is still going to him.
There has been no collective voice, guild or union of artistes. Most of us are not in a position to go to court; we don’t want to be a litigious community. Do we have the money for that? Can we take on more powerful people? Indian law is quite strong on the issue but our own inabilities prevent it from being implemented effectively. Even a juggler, an acrobat, a madari has performing rights, every member of the ensemble has the right, be it the singer or the tanpura player, but how do you execute it? Should I devote myself to singing Yaman and Malkauns or fight these battles?
In the film world the battle is bigger with many more crores involved. It’s an influential community, has bargaining power so any ruling that might come in through their intervention and campaign rights should benefit all the performers.
As told to Namrata Joshi