“Six years ago I came to Dhaka with a dream of establishing myself as a professional singer. As I have been learning music from the childhood, I have necessary musical background. Though it may sound like I am blowing my own trumpet, but I do believe that I have a potential voice and I know how to take care of it. With a view to releasing an audio album I have contacted a number of audio companies, but none of them have agreed to release my album. They are satisfied about my voice but they think that the days of audio albums are gone. Nobody buys an audio album to listen to music any more. It is the era of downloading. They have said if I am really interested, I have to produce my own album! And now releasing an audio album is not enough as in this age of youtube people love to watch video songs. So, I need to produce a few music videos as well! I have completed my graduation by providing tuitions to the students. Still I perform in the wedding and birthday programmes to bear my living expenditure. In such a situation it’s quite impossible for me to produce my own album or music video. And there is no guarantee that if I produce such works I shall get the payment properly! When I see that even the established singers are deprived of their deserved royalty, I get disappointed and sometimes think of leaving my dream of becoming a singer, but ultimately can’t do that due to my passion for music. Often I feel confused about my future”, this was how Ariful Islam Ayon, a struggling singer hailing from a lower-middle class family of Kurigram, shared his frustration regarding the current situation of our music industry. Once Ayon was inspired by the stories of long struggle of his favourite singers (who are also his idols), but now he understands that if the copyright law is not implemented properly and the artistes don’t get their royalty, the dream of becoming a singer for many like him will never get materialized.
It’s not only the case about the musicians rather the situation is same for the potential poets, novelists, dramatists, photographers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors and other creative persons. The rapid advancement of technology, particularly in the field of information and communication, has made the call for intellectual property rights more important. But in our country the scenario is very frustrating. In any sector of creation, whether it is book, film, art piece or music, the proper practice of copyright act is missing. In maximum cases when a publisher publishes a poetry compilation of a poet, novel of a novelist, or a television channel airs a drama of a dramatist, a cinema hall exhibits cinema of a filmmaker, a painting of an artist or a sculpture of a sculptor is displayed in an exhibition; creator of that particular work receives an amount of remuneration. But when more editions of their works come to the market, their songs or dramas are telecast or aired, replicas of their works are made; creative persons hardly get any royalty. People even use the works of creative artistes without taking their permission. Consequently authors or artistes are deprived and they need to struggle in their personal lives. Using the works of the creative geniuses, some opportunists take advantage, but the government fails to take any action against them. Among all the art forms, music related people are suffering the most to get their royalty.
Renowned singer, composer and flute player Bari Siddique opined, “Actually our lyricists, composers, music directors and singers were never conscious about their rights. They focused only on their creative works. As the artistes were always liberal and many of them were not careful about their economic future, others took the opportunity. The state could take proper steps. Especially the concerned ministries can play a big role in ensuring the rights of the artistes. But it’s a matter of great regret that since our independence, in the last 46 years, we couldn’t develop a system to pay the royalty to our creative personalities for their creative works. FM radio stations are telecasting our songs and mobile phone companies are using our songs as welcome tune and ring tone, but most of the artistes don’t get their royalty. We, the artistes, should also be conscious and vocal about this.”
Our music industry has gone through some important changes. During the seventies our lyricists, composers, music directors and singers had limited options. They performed for the state owned television channel and radio stations to telecast their songs from where they got a minimum amount of money, while they largely needed to depend on the playback songs as they got a certain amount of money for the film score.
In the eighties and nineties the context of our music industry was completely different as that was a time when our audio industry emerged. Back then music lovers used to buy new music albums for their own aesthetic satisfaction and to gift their near and dear ones on account of any occasion as well. Rise of band music and solo artistes and huge popularity of melo-rock patterned music made the nineties the most successful period of our audio companies. At that time listeners had to buy hit albums by standing in the long queues! These days’ heavy metal generation may find these stories as fairy tale. In the following years, long play records were replaced by audio cassettes, audio cassettes by the CDs, CDs by DVDs, DVDs by iPods, mobile phone sets and memory cards. Today with a click of a button hundreds of songs can be downloaded.
When we asked about the rapid changes happening in the music industry and the artistes’ mindset to cope with such changes, popular singer Dinat Jahan Munni replied, “The medium of listening music is constantly changing. And it is happening all around the world. Besides watching music videos on youtube and myspace, with the help of internet music consumers are now listening songs from Spotify and SoundCloud. Thus there is no alternative other than adopting with the new technologies and learning the ways to earn from these platforms for the artistes. Besides, stage performance and playback singing can be the ways to look for in this age.”
Certainly artistes can think about new mediums, but what about their royalty from the existing mediums. Unfortunately most of our audio companies, maximum media, particularly the FM radio stations are reluctant to pay the royalty to the artistes. Rafiqul Haque, managing director, Radio Today, said, “It depends on the policy of a media house. We believe in the rights of the artistes. No matter what the amount is, we try to pay the artistes for their works.”
In a musical creation the involvement of many personalities like lyricist, composer, singer, distributors and many others are required. Copyright in musical works secures the rights for singers, lyricists and composers proportionately. But do our lyricists and music composers get it perfectly? Veteran lyricist KG Mostafa observed, “I don’t know about the other lyricists and music directors, but in most of the cases when audio companies made remake of my songs, they didn’t communicate with me. Most of the television channels, FM radio stations play my songs, but let alone the royalty they even don’t mention my name as the lyricist. This is the reality in Bangladesh. As singers are the ultimate performers, they enjoy the limelight and somehow can manage by performing on stage and different media, but the situation is really harsh for the lyricists and music directors.”
It is mentionable that there are local and international laws to ensure the copyright for the owners of the content. The Copyright Act 2000, the (Amendment) Act, 2005 and the Rules 2006 were passed in order to ensure standard protection of copyrights in compliance with the international aspects. Bangladesh Musical Bands Association and LCS Guild Bangladesh are vocal about the royalty of the artistes inside the country. Different international institutions such as Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU), BLCTS and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) are also working on this issue. But despite their continuous efforts, lack of implementation of the laws is increasing the sufferings of the creative persons in our country.
Many of our artistes and production companies are not fully aware of the idea of copyright which is equally harmful for both the creators behind a musical production and the production companies. Mazharul Islam, managing director, Laser Vision Limited, considers it as a mutual responsibility of the artistes and audio companies. He stated, “Both the artistes and audio companies should focus on the contract signed between them. The percentage of the remuneration is distributed according to the contract. The artiste and company should follow the law and be careful while making the contract. If the contract is made properly, then there is nothing to blame about.”
The digitization process of the musical scenario is a global thing. It took time for the developed countries also to find out the way of preventing the piracy through the internet and other advanced mediums. Government has established Bangladesh Copyright Office at the third floor of National Library in Agargaon. Jafor R Chowdhury, Registrar, Bangladesh Copyright Office, has requested all creative persons to register their works there and collect the copyright certificate. If even after the registration any opportunist misuses the works of copyright holders, he has assured that his office is ready to take action.
With the advancement of science and technology the way of subscribing music is changing globally. It is a natural process. But the artistes or creative persons don’t need to struggle for such change in other countries. They have developed a system and guaranteed proper implementation of the law. But in our country the situation is totally opposite. Open selling of pirated CDs, running of illegal musical websites and using the musical works anywhere without the permission of the copyright holder are some of the common practices in our country. Government has to stop such irregularities. All the stakeholders have to be conscious about the copyright law and ensure royalty for the creative persons. And the mass people will have to enjoy creative works more responsibly so that no artiste is deprived of their due royalty.