In my last column, I briefly mentioned how Indian independent music promoters’ attempts to monetise livestreamed concerts had been made more difficult by an announcement from the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) that it would be mandatory for organisers to obtain a licence for a livestream, the cost of which would start at Rs 20,000 for a free, ad-supported or non-sponsored ticketed event.
The announcement set off panic within not just the indie scene but the music industry as a whole, especially because not only is Rs 20,000 higher than what most ticketed online gigs earn in revenue, but also because the tariffs applied to free shows. Consequently, there was an outpouring of questions regarding when and where, to whom and how the tariffs would be chargeable.
For instance: Would musicians going live on Instagram to play their songs have to pay it? Would promoters stop programming artists signed to the IPRS in order to avoid the fee? Another pertinent question was why the tariff rates, which were “subject to the approval by the members in the general meeting” were published and shared publicly beforehand.
The collective sense of anxiety and outrage was only compounded by the IPRS directing all queries sent its way to a webinar, in which it turned out it was one of six participants. In the interim, the organisation shared two updates: that it had signed a licencing deal for the works of its member creators with Facebook and that it was exempting online performances of Indian classical, folk and devotional music from the applicability of the licence fee. This second missive only fueled the feelings of indignation among musicians and organisers, who pointed out that an overwhelming majority of Indian classical, folk and devotional compositions are in the public domain and that the IPRS was essentially saying they would not change for something they could not charge for.
EEMA, a non-profit that seeks to “be the unified voice” of the events and entertainment industry “to government, statutory bodies, taxation authorities and private licensing bodies”, has recommended that the IPRS set the tariff at between 2 to 4 percent of the gross revenue, said president Roshan Abbas. However, the IPRS is insistent on keeping a minimum guarantee as a safeguard against the possibility of organisers absconding from paying the fee, an issue Nigam said they regularly faced in relation to on-ground events. But the amount, he said, has been “reduced substantially” from the initial Rs 20,000 to Rs 1 lakh range previously announced.
Besides, he clarified, the rates only apply to livestreamed concerts featuring the music of its members, the list of which can be viewed on its website. As such, the tariffs cover Indian music and within that, film music predominantly. The IPRS does not have the mandate to collect royalties for livestreams featuring international music as the “reciprocal agreements” with the international royalty collection societies it is affiliated with, “have not been updated to take care of that,” said Nigam.
He also stated that the new tariffs would not be applicable to free events. “If you’re not making any money then we will not be charging any royalty,” he said. Additionally, he clarified that the onus of paying the licence fees falls on the concert organiser, not on the artist or the platform on which it is being streamed unless they are the organisers. Moreover, the date from which the revised tariff will be enforced is yet to be determined.
Based on my conversation with the IPRS, here are some of the different scenarios in which the tariff won’t be payable:
— Livestreams by artists who are not members of the IPRS.
— Livestreams by artists performing their own compositions, for free and without a sponsor, on any platform, irrespective of whether they are members of the IPRS or not.
— Livestreams by artists performing Indian classical, folk, devotional or non-copyrighted music.
— Livestreams by artists performing or playing recorded international music. It’s important to note here that while royalties for such performances do not fall under the purview of the IPRS, the streams might be muted or taken down on the request of rights holders such as music labels to which the international acts are signed.
While the IPRS has finally provided some clarity with respect to livestreaming licence fees, another matter remains unresolved: the applicability of a synchronisation licence, which is not covered by the IPRS but is being claimed by music labels who hold the rights to certain songs performed or played during online gigs. An article in Medianama cited a board member of the Indian Singers’ Copyright Association stating that this fee could be as high as Rs 30,000 per song.
Nigam said that he couldn’t comment about the subject but EEMA has contended that a performance of a track during a livestream cannot be considered a sync. Labels, industry insiders say, counter that if a concert is pre-recorded and streamed “as live”, then it qualifies as a recording and therefore invokes the application of a sync fee. As with the IPRS tariffs, we are of the impression this too will be hashed out through a process of negotiation.
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox