LAW, FILMS AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC



This Article is authored by Advocate Anil Malhotra.


“There’s music in the sighing of a reed;

There’s music in the gushing of a rill;

There’s music in all things, if men had ears;

There’s earth is but an echo of the spheres”

....Lord Byron


THE HISTORY

William Shakespeare in “Twelfth Night”, Act II, Scene I, laments, “if music be the food of love…. play on” while the speaker is asking for music because he is frustrated in courtship. The “Sound of Music,” an American musical film made in 1965 containing several popular songs was filmed in exotic locations in Salzburg, Bavaria and California. It won five Academy Awards and the United States Library of Congress deemed it, “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. Music theatricals at West End in London and epic musicals at Broadway theatre, New York have been hailed for historical shows of “Marry Poppins”, “Les Miserables” and “King David”. Traditional Indian music from “Gharanas” carrying rich cultural traditions and values of India have wafted from time immemorial carrying legacies through fables, legends and ballads. Music, the messenger, since the advent of mankind, has served the test of time for the human race. But, tested today, it is fraught with dangers from murky waters and storms emerging in modern society with new trends.


THE PROBLEM TODAY

Today, music is in a dilemma. For some commercial adventurers through vulgar overtones, it has acquired a pitch crossing limits of decency and morality. Obscene and misogynist lyrics attacking the female gender using pseudonyms and vernacular phrases are hurled with a cocktail of westernized blends at misguided youth. Unmindful of social repercussions and moral norms, musical fortune hunters are making deep inroads into a rich cultural heritage of music unpolluted by time. The alarming pace with which this virus is infecting and plaguing society has no antidote.




CENTRAL LAWS IN EXISTENCE

Section 294 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860, punishes singing, reciting or uttering any obscene song in or near any public place with three month’s imprisonment or fine or both. The Copyright Act, 1957 does not permit any person to publish a sound recording unless it displays the owner of the copyright of such work, person who made the sound recording and the year of its publication. Entry 60 of The Union list of the Constitution of India empowers the Central Government to enact laws for sanctioning of cinematograph films for exhibition. Accordingly, The Cinematograph Act, 1952, provides for certification of cinematograph films and empowers the District Magistrate to revoke the certificate for a particular area in view of public health and safety. The Censor Board, in turn classifies a film for restricted or unrestricted public exhibition. Further, the Government of India, under the Union list, can enact laws for wireless, broadcasting and other like forms of communication. Besides, there are content restrictions for Cable television in the Cable Network Act, 1995 and restraints for internet in Section 67 of The Information Technology Act, 2000 which prohibits publication of obscene material in electronic form. Internet content is also controlled by guidelines for internet service providers who are under an obligation to prevent any obscene, objectionable and unauthorized material over their networks.


PUNJAB LAWS IN EXISTENCE

Punjab Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1952, governs the matter relating to licensing and regulation of cinemas in the territory of Punjab. The Punjab Dramatic Performances Act, 1964, provided for better control of dramatic performances in Punjab and empowers the District Magistrate to prohibit any objectionable dramatic performance in a public place. The Music in Muslim Shrines Act, 1942 was enacted to control performances by girls in Muslim shrines and barred any woman or girl to either sing or dance in a Muslim shrine which is publishable with imprisonment of six months or fine or both. Other than this, music for society in general, is unregulated by any State enactment applicable in Punjab, primarily because it is within the domain of the Government of India to make a regulatory law applicable throughout the territory of India. Punjab laws alone may not apply outside its territory and lewd compositions will still haunt air waves if the lyricists or singers operate outside Punjab.


THE YAWNING GAP

Irrespective of the matter being a central subject, Entry 33 of the State list of the Constitution of India, empowers the State Government to enact laws for theatres and dramatic performances, sports, entertainments and amusements. Since, sound recordings are not regulated by any central enactment like the Censor Board certification for films under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the music industry goes unchecked as song content has no regulatory mechanism to check lewd lyrics. A song which is a combination of lyrics, compositions and voices of a performer recorded in a studio, the producer is its first owner under the Copyright Act, 1957. Regardless, pirated music sold at abnormally low costs rules the roost. However, offensive and vulgar lyrics do not find statutory road blocks other than Section 294 IPC for punishing obscene acts and songs.


THE POSSIBLE REMEDY

The deep rooted societal impact of loud and bawdy music with double meaning overtones has become fashionable among misguided youth. It may precipitate and provoke actions amounting to criminal offences. Law ought not to permit this. Since, unethical singers are germinating and flourishing without abandon or fear, they ought to be checked in Punjab where this surrogate industry has developed irrespective of its territorial constraints. Under Entry 33 of the State List of the Constitution of India, the Government of Punjab is well within its powers to consider music as a part of “entertainment” and enact a new regulatory law to curb the communication of vulgar music to the public emanating from the State of Punjab. The Music in Muslim Shrines Act, 1942 and The Punjab Dramatic Performances Act, 1964 are examples of Punjab legislation which emulate this proposition to be put into this practice. New generation societal ills need fresh thought to check fresh maladies. Law has to catch up with offenders who take advantage of missing checks. An innovative perspective defining vulgar music compositions, checking lyricists, defining indecent songs and containing wholesome provisions in the new arena of music law is the need of the day. Punjab could well have a Music Sensor Board under a new Music Regulatory Law for sanctioning and certifying content of sound recordings on the same terms as films. If Punjab can make the start, other jurisdictions will follow. A positive start is needed. The job well begun will be half done. A new Law must check such indecent songs.