On 31st July 2010 the Dubai-based Gulf News reported that famous Lebanese singer, Fairouz, was embroiled in a dispute over song royalties. The iconic singer, who sang songs of justice, freedom and love, has given hope to many Lebanese during their 15 year civil war.(Ref: Gulf News, 31st July 2010. Fight over royalties could silence Fairouz forever.)
Most of Fairouz’s songs were penned by her late husband, Assi Rahbani, and his brother Mansour, together known as “The Rahbani Brothers,” and now her nephews are accusing her of not asking their permission to sing that repertoire or paying them the necessary royalties.
Assi died in 1986 and when Mansour passed away in January 2009, the long simmering family dispute boiled over.
This summer, Fairouz had planned to perform at the Casino du Liban Yaish Ya’ish (Long Live, Long Live), a 1970 musical written by the Rahbani brothers. But her nephews sent a letter to the Casino’s administration reminding them that such a performance would require the approval of the heirs.
Mansour’s sons — Marwan, Ghadi and Osama — decline to say how much money is owed, but they are demanding remuneration for each time the diva performs songs or any of the musical plays from the Rahbani repertoire.
“All what we are asking for is our intellectual property rights and this is something we will not give up” Osama, also a musician, told the AP.
To get an idea of the type of songs that Fairouz sang, here is a video of her song, Sanarj3ou Yawman. The English subtitles are grammatically correct.
The Rahbani family is known as a musical family. In 2000, Fairouz’s son, Ziyad Rahbani, was described as “currently, perhaps, the Arab world’s most luminous musician” by Egypt-based Al-Ahram weekly news portal. (Source: Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 10-16 August 2000. Levantine contradictions.)
Completely reworking old favourites from the Fairouz repertoire (composed by his father, the late Assi Rahbani, and written by his uncle Mansour), Ziyad also offered more recent features of his own … The concert was attended by no less than 12,000 seasoned and other listeners longing for contact with the singing phenomenon and Lebanese and Arab icon. Fairouz’s status, in fact, is comparable only to Umm Kulthoum’s, except that the former celebrity has lived through the Lebanese civil war, and frequently played a national role through her concerts and songs. “Ziyad gave voice, in these Rahbani tunes, to aspects that were latent or secret,” Wazin wrote in the London-based daily, Al-Hayat (6 August).
A more recent piece at Al-Ahram, penned in 2010, pays tribute to Ziad Rahbani, the son of songstress Fairouz and her late husband Assi Rahbani. (Ref: Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 18-24 March 2010. And all that jazz.)
Song royalties are often a matter of dispute, as composers (or, in this case, children of composers) demand what is rightfully due to them. Even though songs are intangible objects, they often evoke very real emotional responses. Composers, too, feel that these songs are their creations, and would like to benefit when others perform or air their songs. Similarly, recording artistes feel that their recordings should be recognised and some degree of remuneration given to them. Indeed, copyright can give rise to a continual stream of income.
In many jurisdictions in the world, there are bodies set up and authorised to collect song royalties. These copyright royalties will then be disbursed to the songwriters and the performers. Going back to the case of Fairouz, her daughter had made a comment that said, essentially, her cousins should claim their royalties from the body that collects royalties.
Rima Rahbani, a director and the daughter of Fairouz and Assi, accused the heirs of greed and said there was no formal system of direct payments to the brothers from Fairouz herself.
In a telephone interview with The AP, she said Mansour’s heirs should collect their money from Sacem, a Paris-based organisation whose job is to collect royalty payments and redistribute them to the original authors. Mansour had joined Sacem in 1963.
“Sacem should collect the fees from the producers, not from Fairouz, and after the performances are made, not before,” she said.
“Name one artist in the world who has to ask the permission of the heirs when they want to sing songs that were written for them,” she said.
Whether or not an artiste has to seek permission to perform songs written for them, is perhaps another issue altogether. This is clearly not an issue of the right to perform but the right to collect royalties.
In Malaysia, the Borneo Post has been encouraging Dayak songwriters, composers and performers to take positive steps so that they can collect their song royalties.
In Malaysia, once the music is recorded, it is protected by the Copyright Act of 1987. But to benefit from it the owner of the copyright material must be a member of Music Authors Copyright Protection Bhd (MACP). All song writers and lyricists must be members of this organisation to get any form of benefit from the royalty collected by MACP.
There are only a few Dayak songwriters and lyricists who are members of MACP. Some of our leading artistes/songwriters are not members. Maybe they don’t care. Or maybe they do not realise how much they have lost from unclaimed royalty.
A song written and recorded now may earn the copyright owner a small amount, but it can add up to a substantial amount over the years. Add to that, no one can predict what would happen 30 years from now. Just look at those Malay songs from the 60’s. Many are still popular and got re-recorded and aired over TV and radios. Our copyright law gives protection up to 50 years after the death of the owner.
(Ref: Borneo Post Online, 6th July 2010. Dayak Music: When royalty is not collected. The article is worth reading because it has much information regarding royalties in Malaysia.)
On 6th July, 2010, an Australian court ruled that the Australian band, Men At Work, had copied a flute riff from a children’s song and incorporated it illegally in their hit song, “Down Under”. The court ordered the band to pay 5% of their song royalties to the publisher of the children’s song. The publisher, Larrikin Music, had originally sought 60% of the song’s royalties. (Ref: The Star, 6th July 2010. Band penalized for copied riff in “Down Under” hit.)
An article by Tan Sri Sulaiman Mahbob also lamented that the late Tan Sri P. Ramli could have become a very rich man simply by collecting royalties or fees for airing his movies or performing his songs. Unfortunately the late Tan Sri P Ramli did not benefit from today’s consciousness that respects intellectual property. (Ref: The Star, 19th April 2010. Intellectual capital as source of wealth.)
Copyright royalties have also been cited as a burden to some business operators. In Sibu, hotel operators specially requested that their television royalties be lowered, in compassionate view of the economic recession. (Ref: The Star, 19th March 2010. Hotels want lower television royalties.) Now we know why some hotels have disabled the radio console — to avoid paying radio royalties on top of television royalties.
An article about songwriting duos noted that Paul McCartney and John Lennon had come up with a solution to the royalty problem: They would both be credited as songwriters of any song they wrote so that both would equally enjoy the royalties. (Source: New Straits Times, 14th June 2009. They come in pairs.)
For further reading, here is an article about “How Do Songs Make Money?” at the website of a radio show, I Write The Songs: click for link.
We end this article with the music video for Men At Work’s Down Under. Bear in mind that the flute riff has been inspired by — or lifted from, depending on how you look at it — a children’s song.
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