February 24, 2021

Writers want due royalty for their work; copyright society being formed to enforce the law

A copyright society is being formed to enforce the law that requires producers and writers to share royalties equally.

Given that royalty, by definition, is a legallybinding payment made to an individual for the ongoing use of work created by her or him, it is usually assumed that creators get it by default, along with credits in a film or a show. However, in India, despite a law stating that royalties should be shared equally by owners (producers) and authors (writers), and an amendment in 2012 that makes the right to receive royalty unwaivable, writers are yet to begin receiving it.

Taking on the onus of ensuring that the law is implemented, senior screenwriters and producers like Anjum Rajabali, Vipul Amrutlal Shah, Juhi Chaturvedi, Saket Chaudhary, Kamlesh Pandey and Zaman Habib, among others have formed a copyright society, the Screenwriters Rights Association of India (SRAI). The application for registration of the society is pending with the government, which has invited opinions or objections, if any, to the registration.

Pointing out that in Hollywood, based on the arrangement between the Writers Guild of America and different TV networks and OTT platforms, screenwriters receive hefty residuals which are akin to royalties, Anjum, a veteran member of the Screenwriters Association (SWA), reveals that Indian screenwriters get very low fees in comparison. “Even senior writers often complain of feeling bullied by unfair and one-sided contracts owing to the disproportionate bargaining leverage that studios, TV networks, and OTT platforms bring to bear in individual negotiations. The amendment to the Copyright Act of 2012 was a legislative intervention to correct this gross imbalance,” he asserts.

While their application is yet to be approved, the SRAI has invited stakeholders like the Producers Guild, the Indian Film & TV Producers Council, the Motion Picture Association, broadcasters, OTT platforms, and others to discuss questions or concerns regarding the society and its role.

Calling it a friendly move, Anjum says, “Instead of communicating via the government, why can’t we seek to understand each other first? After all, the producer-writer partnership is the first step that initiates any project. We are confident that every doubt or anxiety can be resolved by understanding each other’s concerns.”

Ask him if, during an ongoing pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown, producers will accept a proposal to share revenue and he reasons, “Our aim is hardly to disturb, far less disrupt the economics of our industry. Why would we do that? Everyone’s livelihood, including ours, depends on the good health of the industry. By incentivising writing, the industry will get good films and shows, which create bigger viewership, higher revenues, and benefits everyone.”

The writer of films like Ghulam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Pukar, Apaharan, and Raajneeti goes on to say that royalties are not paid by the producer, and are, instead, a small percentage of what’s earned during the film or show’s secondary exploitation after its run in theatres. He is hopeful that producers, broadcasters and OTT platforms will work with writers in a spirit of cooperation and partnership for the better of the industry.

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