Music royalty for composers and lyricists

I recently downloaded a musical movie of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. I could not take my eyes off the screen that day as I was watching this film again after almost ten years. The meaning of the story of the movie was clearer to me when I went through its every scene and dialogues with utmost attention. Moreover, there was a subtitle that was making it easier for me to recall some of the dialogues that I previously thought I knew.

We always talk about artists’ rights to freedom regarding their creativity. But when it comes to buying their CDs and music videos, we refrain from spending our hard earned cash. Instead, most of us download them for free from illegal websites or simply by copying them from someone else’s collections. Although we know its consequences, we are determined to save our cash with little care for what the album cover is like and how much economic support that the artist will get from the purchases we make. But on the flip side, they do get famous!

My curiosity to learn about the laws to control music piracy in Nepal landed me at the office of Music Royalty Collection Society Nepal (MRCSN) in Anamnagar. I found myself speaking to Ankeeta Shrestha, the head of the organization and a classmate from school. Aiming to set things right in the music industry for good, she told me several things that I previously didn’t know and had not even thought existed! During our conversation, I frequently felt that she was speaking to a culprit (myself) who at times had abused the piracy laws like most of us do!

“Playing songs in a public space is equivalent to listening to them onstage by buying tickets to their concerts,” says Ankeeta. Last month, she had attended a training program in Norway that was titled WIPO-NORCODE Training Program 2013 on Exercise and Management of Copyright and Related Rights. This was conducted by MRCSN’s donor NORCODE, an umbrella organization of CMOS in Norway. The training program had a total of 20 participants from 17 different countries from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. “I got a chance to represent Nepal and presented reports on the copyright law, existing CMOs, the creative industries and their impact on the economy of our country,” adds Ankeeta.

In his book Copyright Collective Management in Music (A WIPO Publication), Dr. Ulrich Uchtenhagen talks about the first copyright act as he writes, “The first die were cast in 1847, when three composers, Ernest Bourget, Paul Henrion and Victor Parizot, sitting at a table in the café-restaurant ‘Les Ambassadeurs’ in Paris, heard musicians play one of their works and refused to pay for their drinks until they were compensated for their music being used. A trial ensued. Encouraged and supported by the music publisher, Jules Colombier, the composers won their legal case. Shortly afterwards, the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers (SACEM) was founded in 1851.”

MRCSN has several propositions that have been created to protect the rights of composers and lyricists. Well, the company does not hold the authority to secure the rights of the singers though. Performers’ Society of Nepal is doing this. As it is obvious that singers and musicians get their profits from their performance and producers get theirs by selling the audio songs, this organization in the only existing firm that has stood for the rights of the composers and lyricists in the Nepalese music industry. With over more than 600 registrations so far, MRCSN is successfully expanding its membership and outreach by conduction campaigns in different major cities of Nepal and recently a rally that was held on the 26 April in Kathmandu to mark the World Intellectual Property Day. “In contrast, people outside the valley showed much enthusiasm to our campaigns as compared to those inside,” says Saroj Pandey (Admin & Finance Officer, MRCSN).

Collecting royalties from its license holders, MRCSN also holds the rights to take legal action against music piracy in all aspects that even includes a penalty against a restaurant that is playing music without the composer’s authority! As for other forms of media such as FM and televisions, a registration process is required after which they will have to pay royalties to creative and physical producers of the music being aired or broadcasted. “This is indeed a difficult task but we are quite assured that our organization will be heading towards a successful implementation of the laws that will secure the rights of music composers and lyricists in the days to come,” says Suresh Adhikari, the chairman of MRCSN.

Getting involved in music piracy is like saying, “smoking is injurious to health”, but unable to let go of cigarettes. When I look at my own case regarding illegal and free downloads, I find myself in a position that most of us are going through without any idea of what we are actually doing. Yes, piracy is a crime. But how can someone stop the urge to get something being offered for free? At least we can be sure for one thing: consumers want freedom to get a taste of their favorite artists’ creativity!