We explore what Facebook's new tie-up with three major Indian music companies implies for the industry
After Chak De! India released in 2007, and then Instagram was launched in 2010, Salim Merchant —who composed the music for the Bollywood hit with his brother Sulaiman — had toyed with the idea of uploading the title track as part of one of his videos on the social media platform. But then, better sense prevailed. "I knew I couldn't because the song was a copyright-protected property of Yash Raj Films. So, I eventually decided against posting it," he says.
That being said, it should now come as good news to him that in a recent development, Facebook has signed an agreement with three major Indian music companies that lets users upload their licensed tracks with videos, stories and other creative content on the website or app, and the same goes for Instagram, too. The three labels are T-Series, Zee Music and Yash Raj Films. And what this means is that if, say, you decide to go out wearing baggy pants, a loose baseball T-shirt and a cap that's turned around, you can post a video of yourself that has Apna Time Aayega from Gully Boy playing in the background. Users, in other words, are now free to depict thousands of copyright-protected songs in any way they feel.
But what sort of impact will this move have on the Bollywood music industry and its audiences? Merchant feels, "In terms of content since users will now have access to these songs, the popularity of these tracks will obviously increase. So, that's a good thing," adding, "See, India is a country of 1.3 billion people, buddy. And the kind of revenue streams it generates for content owners is fantastic."
That sentiment is echoed when we speak to Ankur Tewari, who composed the music for Gully Boy. He tells us, "As long as the artistes receive their royalties for the work that they have done and the streams that are generated, it's a great thing because the exposure to their songs increases. And I'm sure that since all these are big companies, they are following due process."
But, Tewari also adds a note of caution. He says, "The only con that I can see — and this is my personal view — is that art is all about context. So, in what context will the song be used? That is the question. If a track, to use a bad example, is used for spreading communal disharmony, then there is a loss of control that should be discussed, understood, and figured out."
The debate, in other words, is an age-old one between quantity and quality. And in a massively populated and multi-faceted country like ours, what is the sort of visual prism that Facebook and Instagram users apply to their favourite tracks remains to be seen.