No music to ears

A music director creates the melody, while a background singer brings those melodies to life. The music company takes those melodies to the public at large. And the public hum along or move it to trash can. So, who owns the melody: Is it the creator? Or, the person who gives life to it? Or, the company, which markets the melody? Or, the public, who decide on the melody-ness of it. Each of them have their part to play in the life cycle of the melody, if I can say so.

The recent controversy between music director, Ilayaraja, and singer, SP Balasubramaniam or SPB, relates to creator claiming rights to the melody. Ilayaraja has sent out a legal notice restricting SPB from singing his compositions in a concert. As things stand today, there is no “legal” outcome, other than the fact the SPB has vowed not to sing Ilayaraja’s compositions at a concert.

A true loss to music lovers, in general, and fans of Ilayaraja and SPB, in particular. We, a group of friends, had met to celebrate one of them getting a patent. And we were discussing the Ilayaraja and SBP controversy.

What an irony!!!

In the software industry, there is a clear cut understanding and acceptance of who owns any intellectual or a creative creation. There is on two words about it: The company, for which the individual is working at the time of filing a patent, owns it. Although, the patent does bear the name of the creator, the “rights” to it is limited to the person’s stay in that company. Once the creator quits the company, the “rights” rests with the company. And even during the individual’s stay in the company, there is hardly any “rights” the individual enjoys; the company decides how best to put the patent to use. The creator gives up the right on any intellectual or a creative creation because the company makes a regular payment, called salary, to the creator.

Similarly, the claim that Ilayaraja, or for that matter any other music director had made in the past or makes in the future, does not truly relate to the melody by itself. The claim is actually on the value of the melody and not the melody itself! Take the example of music companies and/or music directors wanting to sue radio stations as they believed it was an unauthorized use of “their” melodies because they were not being paid for it.

Theoretically, the way it should work must be same in both software and music industries, for after all it is the value of the creation that needs to evaluated and shared. But why is there such a huge difference between the two? Maybe for one, working for software industry long enough makes us follow the rule, ignorance is bliss! in most cases, neither we do not know, nor do we take the pains to find the value of a creation. Two, in most cases the intellectual creation is but a cog in a larger wheel; without the wheel, the cog makes no sense, but it may still work the other way round. On the other hand, in the music industry, the negotiating power has a lot to do with the individual’s brand. The bigger the brand, greater is your negotiating power. The AR Rahman can reject an Amir Khan’s film because they were not able to agree on the rights of the melody. But smaller players in the music industry too are like us in the software industry—happy to get an opportunity to create, but not really be in a position to negotiate the value of one’s creation.

The truth is, the big fish takes it all.

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