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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Frenchman buys 25,000 Indian songs

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

KL Saigal
Rights to the tunes of legendary composer KL Saigal are now being administered by Forler

A Frenchman has bought the rights to 25,000 Indian songs - partly to make sure the composers and lyricists get royalties.

Achille Forler, who has been living in India since 1969, has also set up the country's first independent music publishing house with an impressive catalogue.

The 54-year-old former French embassy employee paid $3m to buy or administer rights to compositions which include some by leading Bollywood composers and lyricists like KL Saigal, RD Burman, Javed Akhtar and Anu Malik.

He has also bought the music to films such as Satyajit Ray's period classic Shatranj Ke Khiladi and Basu Chatterjee's Rajnigandha.

The Frenchman realised there was potential in opening a music publishing business in India while heading the audio-visual department at the French embassy in Delhi.

'Low awareness'

He says Sacem, the French society of authors, composers and publishers of music, collected $400,000 in royalties between 1990 and 1995 for Indian music used in France.

"We didn't know whom to pay this money because most of the works of music were not registered," Mr Forler told the BBC News website.

Eventually, the money was sunk into creating an organisation to promote budding French songwriters.

The Indian music industry has huge potential - but if it wants to go global in a big way, it should adopt international practices of accounting and payments
Achille Forler

Mr Forler found that Indian songwriters and lyricists had a "very low awareness" about royalties due to them from their songs which were being played on television and radio stations abroad.

"No one in the music industry here quite knows how to go about collecting royalties," he says.

For example, leading Bollywood scriptwriter-songwriter Javed Akhtar told him that he had signed copyright contracts with producers for only 30 of the 320 films he had worked on.

Achille Forler also found that no one had been collecting royalties for music played in Israel. There had been some 2,000 Indian songs on radio and films on television there in the last two years alone.

Even the 36-year-old Indian Performing Rights Society Limited, a non-profit organisation which picks up royalties for Indian music, estimates that its present collections are only about 5% of the total possible collections in the country.

After launching his company, Deep Emotions Publishing, in Delhi, Mr Forler helped popular Indian singer Shubha Mudgal to pick up royalties for four songs she had composed and sung for Mira Nair's 1996 film Kama Sutra.

Ms Mudgal had given away her music rights for the four songs for $1,000.

Mr Forler says he called up the film's producers in New York and renegotiated the contract in 1996.

Court battles

Since then Ms Mudgal has picked up $8,000 as royalties from repeat plays of her Kama Sutra compositions.

Mr Forler says the problem with most Indian music writers and lyricists is that they sign contracts accepting a one-off payment from recording companies or film producers without "realising the long term royalty potential".

Shatranj Ke Khiladi poster
Forler has bought rights for the music of the Satyajit Ray classic Shatranj Ke Khiladi
Now his company has tied up with international music publishing giant BMG Music Publishing and set aside $12.5m to buy Indian music rights and sign up songwriters.

The company now has rights to the compositions of two million international music acts - Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Madonna, the Bee Gees and Bryan Adams among them.

In India, Achille Forler collects royalties for songs he has bought directly. He also collects royalties for songwriters and takes a share of the earnings.

Despite India's detailed copyright laws, negotiating music contracts and securing royalties here is often mired in long-drawn court battles.

In many cases, royalties due to songwriters and lyricists are being pocketed by record companies.

There are also outstanding issues involved in paying royalties to composers whose tunes end up on remix tapes, on television or on mobile phone ring tones.

In fact, Achille Forler's firm has set aside nearly $60,000 this year to fight court battles.

He says that Indian songwriters are becoming more aware of their royalty rights.

"The Indian music industry has huge potential. But if it wants to go global in a big way, it should adopt international practices of accounting and payments," he says.

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