Royalty payment for ownership of intellectual property has been a pressing issue among the local artistes for a few decades. This included the utilization of the particular intellectual property for commercial purposes, without the permission of the artiste, as well as copying and reproduction of the material without the permission of the owner.

President Sirisena recently instructed the Media Ministry to enforce a mechanism in order to ensure that artistes receive royalty from broadcasters. A royalty is a payment, to the legal owner of the property, as compensation for use of the particular asset for commercial or related activities.

When it comes to a song, internationally, three parties own the rights, namely; songwriter, music composer and the singer. The music label pays them in order to obtain the rights, under the existing entertainment law. The terms of this contract generally includes agreement on royalty payments. In the case of new artistes, sometimes the rights are bought by the producer, without agreeing on royalty payment.

Attorney-at- law and Legal Counsel at Entertainment Media and Sports Law Firm, Chanakya Jayadeva commented that “legally three people hold the copyright for a song. But in Sri Lanka, who should get the copyright is a debated issue.”

One of the common complaints of the artistes has been that record labels are earning a larger fraction of the profits. Jayadeva explained that this depends on the contractual understanding between the artistes and the music label. Referring to mobile service providers using songs as ringing tones, Jayadeva elaborated that internationally the standard is to pay the record label for the number of ringing tone downloads. “At this points if the right of the artiste is not obtained by the label previously, the rights are renegotiated between the artiste and the label.”
At times issues arise between lyricists, music composers and singers when the song is sung at public performances, without informing the composer or the lyricist. “This case arises when the lyricist has not gone into detail when giving the rights to a song,” says Jayadeva.

Internationally, intellectual property rights are valid for the life time of the artiste, plus 70 more years. This is generally passed on to the artiste’s wife or children, at the time of the artiste’s demise, according to the Will.

Lyricist, Saman Chandranath Weerasinghe states that the issue of royalty payment to artistes has been a recurrent subject. “The law exists, but the point is the actual payment of royalty. This issue was there during Hudson Samarasinghe’s era and then during Tissa Kariyawasm’s era.  We actually requested Rupavahini Corporation and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation not to play our songs. At the time Tissa agreed to pay us royalty, but since then, it has stopped,” said Weerasinghe.

The main concern here is on who actually owns a song. Many Sri Lankans believe that a song is owned by the singer. “The creative right for a song lies with its lyricist and the music composer. The singer has a contributory right since it is the singer who carries the song to the audience,” Weerasinghe declared.

He elaborated that when it comes to a song, under present Sri Lankan context, the composer and the lyricist are forgotten. Media organizations and businessmen take advantage of this situation. “This is partly due to the loopholes found in intellectual property law,” Weerasinghe added.

Music performances are one example, where a song sans predetermined rights creates a clash between lyricist, composer and singer. “At most performances, lyricists or composers don’t get any economic benefit. Some singers do pay royalty to lyricists, but this is mainly done out of friendship,” he said.

Weerasinghe emphasized the need for a streamlined royalty scheme, in order for all artistes to benefit from it. “To use one of my own songs as a ringing tone, I have to pay the mobile service provider. Sometime back, when I checked, there were about seven songs written by me used as ringing tones. I don’t even know who sold the songs,” he said.

Singer, Somathilaka Jayamaha, says that according to a gazette notification about ten years ago, a royalty of 10 rupees should be paid each time the song is broadcast by an FM channel. “The lyricist, composer and singer have been given equal rights over a song, where each of them receives a three-rupee payment and the other rupee is given to the royalty society. But this does not happen, we only receive a cheque once in a while,” says Jayamaha.
Outstanding Song Creators Association (OSCA) is currently monitoring broadcasting of songs and categorizing them according to artistes and Chanel via a computer system.

He refuted claims that the ownership of a song lies with its singer and attributed the commercial success of a song to the lyricist and the music composer as well. “A song is demanded on stage only if it is popular. This depends on the lyricist and the composer too. Abroad, lyricists and the composers are considered the main owners of the song where the singer only has secondary ownership of the song as the mode of taking a song to the audience,” Jayamaha said.

He said that some singers including himself pay royalty to lyricists and composers. “As singers we have to be flexible. Also, we have to be aware of our obligations and be conscientious,” he said.