DAVID -VS- GOLIATH: IN THE INDIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY

Atish Chakraborty
Debdeep Das

There has been a noticeable shift from distribution of music by physical copies in the form of cassettes, CD, vinyl to the digital medium. This shift started in the late 1990s , when Napster was introduced to the world by Shawn Fanning.[1] It was soon noticed by the music industry that this online platform deprived the artists of their rights due to lack of recognition and piracy. Now, after a couple of decades, music is at the tip of our fingers with digital distributors like Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon Music, JioSaavn just to name a few. With this advancement in technology , keeping track of plagiarism is easier , but due to uncontrollable access there are times when the independent artists fall prey to the major labels and companies. Such was the case with Ritviz and T-Series. It is like a fight between David and Goliath, where T-Series has the potential to crush the indie artist without even breaking a sweat.  

Ritviz Srivastava is a well-known producer of electronic music. He has till date released a number of original compositions which became instant hits. The present controversy relates to one of his original compositions titled “Udd Gaye” which he performed for the first time at the Bacardi House Party in 2017. Once performed, it undoubtedly took the music industry by storm due to its catchy electro beats blended with eastern classical influences. He went on to be declared as one of the four winners of the Bacardi House Party Session. However, in a recent movie titled “Pati Patni AurWoh”, a song was used which is distinctively similar to his popular composition “Udd Gaye”. The song appearing in the movie from 00:46:17 to 00:49:57 had an uncanny similarity to the lyrics, background score for the music in parts only with a changed vocal arrangement. On finding such similarity between his composition and the song used in the movie, Rtiviz posted a clarification stating that he had nothing to do with the song that was being used in the movie.[2] He also went on to clarify that neither he himself nor his manager nor the publisher or the distributor had any role nor was the song licensed nor assigned to the behemoth of a company, T-Series.[3] As a result of this, there has been much uproar on the said issue in social media platforms, wherein people across quarters have extended their support to him. However, when he consulted the lawyers, they advised him to let it be the way it was for, T-Series being a dominant player in the market could ruin his career.

Based on the aforesaid facts, it can be said that the act of T-Series squarely amounts to infringement of copyright for there was no  assignment or licensing rights that had been given to T-Series and there existed substantial similarity in the work of Ritviz and the song “Udd Gaye” used in the movie “Pati Patni AurWoh”. Further, the facts at hand also pass the substantial similarity test which provides that a copyrighted work is said to be infringed if the work is copied either identically or if certain changes are made and yet they tend to have a lot in common with the original work. For a song, a substantial similarity may mean using of a similar tune with slight or no alteration of the composition and may be alter of visual elements.[4] It is crystal clear that all these aspects stand well satisfied in the present case and hence if an action would be taken in this regard would succeed. The possibility that Ritviz’s lawyers made him aware of could also be redressed if the matter went up to the Court as the Copyright Act, 1957 explicitly gives a rider to the accused defendant to take the plea under Section 60 which protects Ritviz in the present case if T-Series threatens to bring a legal proceeding against him without any strong ground or rationale and would in turn penalise the actual artist as is the situation that has been speculated of in the present case.

The violation is not just confined to the domain of Intellectual Property laws but goes down a much deeper and darker path. The advice of the lawyer that Ritviz should not take any action or else he would be removed from the industry altogether is disappointing but sadly true, and keeping in mind the power and dominance of T-Series, this is applicable to almost all independent artists. The possession of such power is not unlawful in itself but when the Courts delve into such matters they look into some specific question. They take into consideration whether the company has substantial market power which cannot be denied in the case of T-Series, as they are not only one of the biggest music record label and film production companies , but it has the unrivalled social presence in YouTube followed by the question whether this action would substantially lessen the competition, which it does by infringing rights of independent artists and even smaller companies and they would also be able to restrict their  access to market, which would not only be unfair in an economic sense but also in a moral aspect. Detailed discussion of the same has been done in the Competition Act, 2002 [5] but unless  T-Series takes any action nothing can be legally brought against them under the Act.

At the very moment it seems that Goliath is winning and that is not going to change unless David can reach out to the stones and fight him back.


[1]The Music Industry in an Age of Digital Distribution, https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/articles/the-music-industry-in-an-age-of-digital-distribution/ (last visited June 24, 2020).

[2]Ritviz: “I cannot make music just for the heck of it.”, https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/ritviz-i-cannot-make-music-just-for-the-heck-of-it/article26521322.ece (last visited June 24, 2020).

[3]Ritviz Slams T-Series for Plagiarising His Hit Track ‘Udd Gaye’ in Pati Patni AurWoh,

https://www.news18.com/news/lifestyle/ritviz-slams-t-series-for-plagiarising-his-hit-track-udd-gaye-in-pati-patni-aur-woh-2533437.html(last visited June 24, 2020).

[4] Mathew Thomas, Understanding Intellectual Property 124 (Eastern Book Company 2016).

[5]Section 4, Competition Act,2002.

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