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Copyright hegemony of T-series: a question of legality and morality

  • Chakrika Pandey | Team PresentMirror | Updated: July 14, 2020, 10:07 a.m.

A look at India’s largest record label, T-series and the issue of its copyright authority that has disregarded ethical principles of content creation.


T-series owns up to thirty-five percent share of the Indian Music Market, making it the biggest record label of the music industry. The company has not just dominated Bollywood but also established a dominant presence on Youtube with over 143 million subscribers. The company has over the years produced and released hit songs and albums, but also been targeted for its unethical ways of carrying out business that has hampered content creation in the music industry.

The release of MASAKALI 2.0 by T-series in April this year, brought forward the unequal power distribution between the producers and creators of a song. The original song Masakali from Delhi-6 (2009), was composed by Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman, sung by Mohit Chauhan and written by Prasoon Joshi. The recreation released under the label of the company received a lot of flak from citizens as well as the makers of the original song, who openly criticized the record label for using it without their consent.

The controversy surrounding the song highlighted the monopolisation of an original creation by the producer, by infringing the rights of other stakeholders. It has been deemed wrong not just on legal but also moral grounds. There is exploitation of singers and musicians by big producing companies and a lack of novelty in creations that now exist for the purpose of money-making alone.

The trend of remixing original songs has settled in, but the question remains–– shouldn’t the singers, writers and composers of the old song get a say in its recreation. While logic would say yes they do, the matter is more convoluted. The Copyright Law, even after the 2012 amendment to stop any exploitation and infringement of an original work, is still ambiguous due to the overlapping ownership rights of multiple stakeholders in a created song. On top of that not everyone in the industry is willing or able to pursue the course of law against financial giants, to lay claim over their intellectual property rights.

In early March this year, T-series was called out for plagiarising electronic music producer Ritviz’s ‘Udd Gaye’ and releasing it in the movie “Pati Patni Aur Woh”. Ritviz had taken to social media to publically slam them for using his song without “any adaptation licence”. Many people who saw the similarity between the original song and the song from the film, came out in support of the musician. While the record label didn’t give due credit to him, they didn’t respond to his allegations either.

There is, however, visible duplicity on part of the company on the issue of ownership and copyright. The company, as singer Maithili Thakur had pointed out, has copyrighted devotional songs on Youtube. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has described “pre-existing traditional culture” and its expression “as part of the public domain”, thus rendering it free from copyright laws and intellectual property systems. The monopolisation by big record labels of devotional songs, that have formed the tradition of a community for years thus, is questionable for it resembles a business’ ignorance of ethics and morals. T-series’ Youtube which is ranked as the channel with the most subscribers, generates 60-70% of the total revenue of the record label, the chairman and company director, Bhushan Kumar had said.

Recently, many big names–– Sonu Nigam, Adnan Sami, Monali Thakur have called out T-series for influencing the nature of the Indian music industry. “Nobody gets their due. That is the reason why I do not like the atmosphere and ecosystem of the music industry”, Monali Thakur had said backing the claims of Sonu Nigam who had released a video talking about the toxic environment of the industry and its impact on emerging singers and musicians while referring to T-series as the music industry “mafia”.

The implications of business expansion have impacted the Indian music scenario, and is visible in the lack of originality, dull remixes and plagiarised versions of songs. The exploitation of loopholes and ambiguity of the copyright laws, is not only unfair to original creators but also resemble unethical and immoral principles of content creation. Naturally, it comes off as a measure of making profits alone and does not suit the reputation of companies that in their huge popularity have come to represent the face of the Indian music industry.

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