Four FM radio channels and scores of music companies have locked horns in the Bombay and Delhi High Courts over an order of the copyright board granting compulsory licences and fixing rates of royalty for broadcasting sound recordings.
On a petition to move all the cases to the Supreme Court, a Bench comprising Justice Brajesh Kumar and Justice Arun Kumar has issued notice to the copyright holders.
On the one side are arraigned radio channels like Entertainment Network India, Music Broadcast, Radio Mid-Day and Millennium Broadcast. They say the copyright owners are not making available the sound recordings on reasonable terms.
On the other side is Phonographic Performance, a copyright society with over 60 music firms as members, and Super Cassette Industries, one of the largest owners of copyright in sound recordings with nearly 120,000 of film songs, gazals and other music renderings.
Section 31 of the Copyright Act provides for compulsory licence in cases where a copyright owner refuses broadcast of the works and withholds them from public.
In such cases, the copyright board can direct the registrar of copyrights to grant compulsory licences after hearing the copyright holder and holding an enquiry. The owner will be paid at the rate determined by the board.
In this case, the copyright holders have been taking the FM channels to court over broadcast of their music without licence or written permission. The radio channels then moved the copyright board seeking compulsory licence.
On October 20, the copyright board, after hearing the parties in detail, granted compulsory licences in favour of the radio channels with certain terms and conditions.
The radio channels immediately furnished bank guarantees to the music firms and started playing sound recordings in terms of the copyright board order.
The copyright owners and the radio channels then moved the high courts. One radio channel challenged the amount of royalty fixed by the copyright board, while the copyright owners moved the Delhi High Court seeking to set aside the order of the copyright board.
The common question involved in all these appeals is about the power of the copyright board to grant compulsory licence, the terms on which it should be granted and the amount of royalty.
Another important issue is whether the airing of the sound recordings leads to a reduction in the sales of the film and other music in the shops.
If so, whether it is a factor to be considered while granting or refusing to grant compulsory licence. The radio channels say withholding of the permission to air popular music is against consumers’ interest.