As members of the Rajya Sabha get set to debate the provisions of the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010, there’s one issue that is sure to come up in the course of the discussions. With the HRD ministry narrowing the definition in S.31D (relating to statutory licensing) to include only ‘radio broadcast’ and excluding television broadcasts, television networks are up in arms and are expecting a reasonable explanation for the exclusion, when the bill is debated in parliament.
The earlier provision read as follows:
31D. (1) Any broadcasting organisation desirous of communicating to the public by way of a broadcast or by way of performance of a literary or musical work and sound recording which has already been published may do so subject to the provisions of this section.
The proposed amendment now, is:
31D. (1) Any broadcasting organisation desirous of communication to the public by way of a radio broadcast of a literary or musical work and sound recording which has already been published may do so subject to the provisions of this section.
Essentially, the amendment would restrict the applicability of statutory licensing provisions to radio broadcasts only, denying the benefit of its application to other forms of broadcast and through other mediums of consumption. So for instance, content on mobile phones, tablets and televisions will not fall within the ambit of this clause. Television broadcasters would now have to pay exorbitant royalty fees to transmit sound clips over which the various music companies such as T-Series, retain ownership. This directly impacts the rights of television broadcasters who would have to pay more for broadcasting the same content, which would be made available to radio broadcasters at a much lower fee, in view of the provisions of S.31D. This is aside from the fact that radio broadcasters would be granted automatic permission to transmit these audio clips under the compulsory licensing system, in high contrast to television networks, who would have to seek specific permission for each audio clip, since they no longer fall within the ambit of the statutory licensing provisions in the Indian Copyright Act.
Reports indicate that the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) have expressed their opposition to the amendment and it is to be seen what response they manage to extract from the parliamentarians in this regard. It does seem a little ridiculous that audio clips are subject to statutory licensing provisions with lowered licensing fees in respect of radio broadcasts, but this is not the case for television broadcasts. While one may argue that radio is restricted to transmitting purely audio content and hence should receive such a benefit, while television broadcasts possess a much broader spectrum of content, it must be remembered that several television channels run purely on the broadcast of songs on television. Whether a rational explanation can be provided by the HRM ministry, is a question that will have to wait to be answered.