Valuing art

Intellectual property rights are not taken as seriously here as they are in some developed states

August 13, 2023


he information minister announced recently that a music policy was being prepared for the approval of the cabinet. One wondered what the policy entailed and whether it was another attempt to curb the freedom of expression. The government seemed bent upon curbing various freedoms in the name of order and propriety, ironically citing its commitment to democracy as a motive. Was this going to be another attempt to curtail the arts or a genuine attempt to make sense of the digital age realities?

Considering there is a lot of inherent bias against music in the society, it is easy to impose all kinds of censorship without the fear of a backlash. Some articles have since appeared in various publications to address the issues that relate to the problems that the digital age has brought as a lot of music is now being streamed and most people access it in the digital sphere. The baggage that comes with the technological innovation taking root needs to be taken into account. Of course, the issues addressed or voiced have been about the various protocols that need to be in place and that already exist, strengthened and made more purposeful than just being a few lines and a number of words that are repeatedly overlooked.

It has been observed that intellectual property rights are not taken with the same seriousness in Pakistan as they are in other more technologically savvy societies. This results in everybody suffering on account of those trying to exploit the enforcement loopholes.

For several decades there was no culture policy in the country. Over the past few years, however, all governments insisted on having a culture policy. The end result has not been convincing. In the case of films, the situation has not changed at all. Despite the introduction of dozens of policies, the industry remains mired in the same problems. The moment some theme, scene or a character in a movie is objected to by some section of the population, the censor board cowers and enforces a ban on public screening no matter how artistically truthful the depiction may be.

With regard to music, the focus has been on lyrics so that a song’s merit is determined by the choice of words. This is unfortunate. Music’s worth should be judged by the merits of music itself and not by a single component. This is how music has always been misread and mistreated in societies like ours that are obsessed with righteousness.

Music’s worth should be judged by the merits of music only and not by a single component. This is how music has always been misread and mistreated in societies like ours that are obsessed with righteousness.

Some of the investors have come forward with a set of proposals. A recent article by Yahya Farid Khawaja and Abdul Rafay Siddiqui has sought to remind the government that it needs to be mindful that a policy tailored to benefit the artist but neglecting the investors will be short-lived at best. Some of the aspects the authors have highlighted relate to the existing copyright laws. Ten years, they argue, is too short a period to inspire confidence. They have also sought appointment of more registrars to facilitate IPO working and to make the dysfunctional Collective Organisation for Music Rights in Pakistan (COMP) more purposeful. Pakistani artistes have no control over royalties in the sense that they cannot maintain records and track all that happens in the digital arena. The COMP, a government-sanctioned body, is supposed to ensure that artists receive their fair share of royalties from the public performance of their music by other parties in Pakistan. However, it falls far short of achieving its goals.

One way suggested out of it is to make it autonomous and give it more teeth. Royalties not claimed by the artistes within three years, can be used to create a welfare fund to address the financial worries of retired and old musicians. Standard data-related metrics, such as total views across all digital platforms, should be used to evaluate the value of the songs over time, so that artists know their true worth and are able to make enlightened decisions when selling, licensing, and assigning their songs to other parties. To ensure better streamlining, the IPO needs to improve its online registration portal and re-model it on the pattern of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) in order to ensure that applications are submitted online and do not require too many physical visits to the IPO.

“In the age of data-analytics and AI, the music industry can be incentivised to adopt fairer practices. Protection of online global streaming platforms is highly important. Digital music streaming platforms such as Spotify and YouTube should be protected against arbitrary bans as those harm the artistes’ revenues. Currently, Pakistan is ranked among the lowest in terms of revenue per stream for artists. This should be followed by [the setting up of] a dispute resolution mechanism,” the article argues.

More freedom and protection of the artiste’s rights, including the economic returns, should be the priorities in all such policies.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore