The strange case of T-series

The music company T-series has an interesting story. Once upon a time, Gulshan Kumar rose from being a mere fruit juice seller to a major music retailer. T-Series was built by stretching the legalities of copyright law in India. They took commercial songs, got it sung by several lesser known singers creating a ‘version recording’ of the song and sold them at much lesser prices. They had legal backup- the void in the copyright act, which allowed such ‘version recordings’ on the service of a notice on the rights holders and payment of a statutory compulsory licensing fee. Making hundreds of such ‘cover versions’, they often made more sales than the rights holders themselves!

It was only with the launch of ‘Hum aapke hain kaun’, when T-Series greedily went beyond its conventional piracy strategy and not only created a ‘version recording’ but also had the lead stars of the movie printed on its inlay card along with the title of the movie. Here trademark law stepped in for the rights holders where copyright law deserted them and as expected, T-Series was sacked. The business model of T-Series changed henceforth. Today, they hold thousands of copyrights on their name. They have even grown to be a full fledged film production company.

Now lets face the reality! It is truly ironic that a company that allegedly violated copyright laws to build his music empire, now leads the battle against piracy and copyrights infringement. They have raged a battle against youtube, myspace, ibibo- to name a few. It is to be understood here that transformative business models and services naturally offend copyright law! And copyright laws, no matter what they intended to be, have only increased monopoly to increase revenues for the people at top. Now it all boils down to one question- Hum aapke hain kaun? A past “pirate”? A present major music label ? Or a future roadblock to innovation?

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One response to “The strange case of T-series

  1. There was a time when music albums were made only for the classes. There was a time when the only voices heard on the tapes were those of the Bombay Film Industry based singers – the best guys around! Then someone changed it all!
    The people born in early 80s and before will tell you how they used to wait for Chitrahaar to listen to some songs. They will tell you how they used to wait for the Radio request shows. And they will tell you how they valued their cassette players. They will tell you how valuable and cherished each audio cassette used to be. Even 3 decades back the cost of audio cassettes from many companies was hovering above Rs 50/-. The cassettes were birthday gifts 🙂
    In this era there was no place for regional music. There was no scope for anything other than Film Music. The only expression that found space in mainstream is that of the stars of the industry. It was then that a music company came and started selling cassettes at Rs 20/-. A company came which was willing to record and publish an album even if it expected only a few hundred copies to see. A company came in and published all types of prayer songs in affordable packages. Suddenly you could here Anuradha Porwal in temples. In Uttaranchal, the unknown artists could be heard in the market and on bus stands.
    There are some people who believe that Gulshan Kumar had more to do than commercial success and money making. There are people who believe in the one time highest tax payer of the country. There are people who believe Gulshan Kumar did on audio front what the Sagar brother’s did on the television front. For being able to think differently than the corporate league and for being the torchbearer for many lesser known voices, at least for just this part, there are people who will always be very proud of him. I am one of them.
    What has happened to T Series after his death is something I have no knowledge about. Once the man was gone, I lost the track!

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