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After SPB-Ilaiyaraaja, Sony Music and Sun Network lock horns over copyrights

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 27, 2017 04:49 PM
In what seems to be the latest in an increasing number of cases of copyright violations, Sun Network on Friday was banned by the Madras High Court from using Sony Music copyrighted work.

This was published by the News Minute on April 26, 2017. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.


The order comes, despite Sun Network's claim that “it was the absolute copyright holder of films under the South Indian Cinematograph films". This instance, according to experts is yet another case that highlights the complex nature of copyrights and the need for reform in the act itself.

According to reports, Sony Music said it was forced to send a cease and desist notice to Sun Network on July 27 last year. This was after an exchange of letters between the two parties and meetings with councillors did not lead to a settlement. Sony reportedly wanted Sun to take prior licences before its works are either aired or adapted by artists to be recorded and aired. Sun Network, which has 33 TV channels in various south Indian languages, however, believed that it had the right to air this music owing to previous agreements that it had signed. The matter escalated over the last three years, where multiple warnings were issued.

"The problem here is that nobody is clear about exactly what rights they have. For a long time, the industry in the south was working with agreements that were not drafted properly. It was ambiguous and now when it comes under scrutiny, several problems arise," explains Swaroop Mumidipudi, an advocate.

"Sun Network’s case is actually not very weak. There are two competing copyrights here. The cinematograph film is one right where you get the image and sound together. Sony on the other hand could have the music rights. So in such a case it wouldn't have seemed wrong to Sun that they were playing the music. But if they changed the visuals that would be a problem," he adds.

Sony when contacted by The News Minute claims in addition to using the music, Sun was synchronising it with different visuals. "Approvals from music rights owners are mandatory before using (synchronization) songs with new visuals. The music could be existing songs, versions or underlying works," says Sridhar Subramanium, President - India and middle east - Sony Music Entertainment. "TV broadcasters, advertisers, film producers and internet companies who use existing music will now need to seek prior permission from copyright owners before communicating to the public including broadcasters," he adds.

Experts at the Centre for Internet and Society, however, claim, the issue is not that simple. "Figuring out who owns copyrigths and who licensed whom is complicated. You need to be cautious before you assume you have rights over something," says Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director, CIS. He also comments that it must be a rude shock to think certain music comes under the realm of your agreement, only to be questioned later. "The Copyright Act that was last amended in 2012 does not address lot of practical problems. If even a low barrier of marking copyright somehow existed, then this confusion can be avoided," he adds.

This latest clash between two media giants, comes close on the heels of the tensions between music director Ilaiyaraaja and singer SP Balasubrahmanyam (SPB). The composer sent a legal notice to SPB, who was singing his songs in a tour abroad. The singer had claimed that he was not aware that prior permission was required but was forced to stop performing Ilaiyaraaja's songs for the rest of the tour.

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