Ilaiyaraja – SP Balasubrahmanyam Controversy: My Thoughts

Rana Prathap
Wed, 03/22/2017 - 21:35

Recently, there has been a lot of media news regarding Ilaiyaraja sending a legal notice to SP Balasubrahmanyam on him singing the former’s songs without his permission. This has invoked a lot of response from national media, and has led to some people taking sides with Ilaiyaraja or SPB.

As a follower of this issue, I believe that a lot of the controversy here is due to misinformation of people. So I would like to explain it to people.

Ilaiyaraja’s songs have been everywhere. Past 9 PM every single FM radio channel in Tamilnadu plays his songs. Or at least they used to. For a man who has composed music for over 1000 movies, and composed over 3000 songs, one might expect that such a high amount of popularity must have brought him a fortune.

But until recently a lot of his songs were used illegally. The Indian Performing Rights Organisation that collects the royalty for songs and pays the rightful owners of the song (the composer Ilaiyaraja, and the producers of the movie in this case) has been grossly underpaying both parties. So recently Ilaiyaraja decided to take matters into his own hands. He stopped his contract with IPRO and has his own team now for managing copyrights and collecting royalties. He feels that the producers of the movies for which he created these songs should earn money from the revenue it makes.

If you follow news you must be familiar with the controversies that happened last year with Ilaiyaraja and a popular CD company over copyright issues. He now has his own Youtube channel where he releases high quality versions of his songs, and he has also released an app last month.

This controversy should be seen as a continuation of his on-going battle against copyright issues. On celebration of his 50th anniversary, SPB has been touring the world, and has been singing Ilaiyaraja’s songs. Along with him are other popular singers such as Mano, Chithra, etc.

These concerts are paid concerts, and the organisers of the program are earning money through the selling of tickets. What Ilaiyaraja’s lawyer did in this case was to send a legal notice to the organisers of the program, asking them to either pay a part of the money as a royalty to the composer, or stop singing his songs. Now what happened here was that SPB decided to not sing his songs at all, and that way disappointed a lot of his fans who decided to come to the program to hear him sing his classics.  

Ilaiyaraja has also sent this kind of notices to small orchestra groups too, to pay royalty. This is usually a small sum of money that the organisers, if they wish can easily do. I think Ilaiyaraja is completely justified in my opinion. If the royalty laws were strict in India under any condition, Ilaiyaraja would have earned far greater money that whatever he is having right now. And the producers of the movies would be benefitted as well. However, this hasn’t happened so far. This is the case with most other composers in India as well.

Ilaiyaraja is the one who should take lead in matters like this. This kind of steps, if started by him, would result in change in the way the industry perceives the idea of copyright and would also benefit other small composers. This is part of a long on-going fight, and we all should support it. This is necessary for the maintenance of the industry and for the prosperity of the composers whose songs we enjoy a day to day basis.

What people should do is to stop making this as a fight between Ilaiyaraja and SPB, because it isn’t one. What it actually is a part of Ilaiyaraja’s fight for the rightful money of him and his producers. Let’s all keep it at that.

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