Can’t stifle our song

I understand that YouTube has been flagging online streaming companies such as Parivadini when compositions of Thyagaraja are uploaded by saying that the copyright for the ‘composition itself’ and not a particular rendition belongs to another com­pany. There is an appeals process, but it doesn’t really work. The nonsensical part is that there are cases where the company that has first claimed copyright has reins­ta­ted their claim over the composition. This is, in my opinion, not just illegal but aga­inst the very fabric of traditional oral music systems. The company can only claim rights over a particular rendition and not the composition, as no one has copyright over it.

I don’t think recording companies and YouTube understand the idea of composition and rendition within an oral music system. The compositions in traditional oral systems are living beings that have evolved with every masterly rendition of the composition. It belongs to the community practising the art. Secondly, each rendition of the same composition is a new creation of that very composition. This is a very crucial and nuanced idea embedded in the fabric of oral artistic cultures. Even among schools of thought there are so many different versions of each composition, no one has the right to copyright each one of them. When any company claims copyright over a composition of Thyagaraja, it is actually absurd. Will we then have companies copyrighting Raga alapanas?

This has serious implications over the creative freedom of every musician to render the compositions of Thyagaraja, Dikshitar or any other composer whose works have been sung for the last 200 years. Will this mean that I cannot upload my rendition of ‘O rangasayee’ by Thyagaraja because a music company claims copyright over it? They just cannot claim this. This has to be stopped immediately since this affects the freedom to practise, propagate and share not just Carnatic music but so many such living art forms that have believed in the idea of ‘open source’ even before the West invented that term. This smacks of a complete disregard to oral artistic traditions that are not just found in India but around the world. This is insensitive to the art, the artist and the composer himself.

Any company or person uploading a rendition of Carnatic or Hindustani music or any other such oral tradition must be allowed only to copyright that particular rendition by the artists who have made that recording. There cannot be any copyrighting of the song itself. This means that YouTube may have to rework its uploading systems, but this needs to done immediately, as large audio companies will use this loophole to push their records and the renditions they possess, and stop artists and organisations from sharing so many other wonderful renditions.

Originally written for Outlook

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