Can musicians make a living from royalty payouts?

DJ Dave asks: Where is the money? ― Malay Mail pic
DJ Dave asks: Where is the money? ― Malay Mail pic

PETALING JAYA, Nov 8 — It’s a question that has plagued the local music industry for years: can musicians make a living from royalty payouts?

According to PRISM Bhd chairman and veteran composer Anuar Dahlan, there is no reason why they can’t. The music industry raked in almost RM680 million in copyright fees over the last 10 years, but the lion’s share go to record companies and music authors (composers and lyricists).

As for royalties owed to singers and performers, this is where it gets murky. Performance & Artistes Rights Malaysia (PRISM) Sdn Bhd, which collected royalties through Public Performance Malaysia (PPM) for performers from 2001 to 2011, was criticised over its handling and distribution of funds.

Veteran singer Datuk Irwan Shah Abdullah, better known as DJ Dave, said over the decade, he received a one-time payment of RM15,000 when the organisation was dissolved in 2011.

“I have almost 40 albums and hundreds of songs. I don’t want to mention how much royalty I get, it’s embarrassing,” he said.

Other artistes reportedly received similar shocks. Datuk Sheila Majid reportedly said in 2012 she received RM5,000 as royalty payment “with no statement showing how they arrived at that figure”.

Mawi, after four years and five albums, received a paltry RM418. Amy Search, Ajai and former XPDC drummer Lola, were also publicly critical of PRISM Sdn Bhd.

After the dissolution of the organisation, Sheila formed Recording Performers Malaysia (RPM) to fulfil the role of collecting and distributing royalties to performers. Other former members established a new body, PRISM Bhd, which was also licensed by the Intellectual Property Corporation Malaysia (MyIPO) as a collection management organisation.

Malay Mail spoke to Anuar and key figures of PRISM Bhd — DJ Dave, legal department head Nivash Dhespal Singh, composer Manan Ngah and lyricist Mohd Zan Abu Bakar.

Why the confusion over PRISM?

Anuar: We were members of PRISM Sdn Bhd. In 2011, the then chairman Datuk Aziz Bakar announced the dissolution of the organisation. In 2012, RPM was formed without the consent of many members.

During a meeting, 90 per cent of PRISM members present, including myself, disagreed to join RPM. We wanted an independent body to represent us, so we formed PRISM Bhd and maintained the name.

The ministry wanted RPM and PRISM to sit together and find an amicable solution. We were willing, but RPM insisted that PPM and Music Authors Copyright Protection (MACP) also join the meeting. We did not agree to this. Why should PPM and MACP be present? It has nothing to do with them.

DJ Dave: We have been sidelined as RPM, PPM and MACP have joined forces. We are fighting for the rights of the artistes, but what’s happening now is that no royalties can be collected and people are confused.

What happened to the collection made by PRISM Sdn Bhd?

Anuar: Aziz had previously said they would give the remaining funds in their account to the members, most of whom are now in PRISM Bhd. But the members have not received any money for the last two years.

They have told us they’re giving the money to the liquidators ... some RM560,000 which was supposed to be given to PRISM Bhd members.

Nivash: We tried to solve this in a friendly manner but to no avail. We may consider legal action against those who were part of PRISM Sdn Bhd.

Why can’t you access the money?

Nivash: We do not have the power of attorney, which would allow us to go the liquidators and claim the money.

Anuar: The money has been stuck since 2012, and no artiste has received royalty from PRISM Bhd. It’s the artistes who suffer. By right, PRISM Sdn Bhd should have collected RM25 million between 2006 and 2011, but they only managed to raise some RM8 or 9 million. Where is the rest of the money?

DJ Dave: There’s no check and balance.

Where is the problem: collection or distribution?

DJ Dave: Collection is another story all together. For collecting royalties, RPM and PRISM Bhd will meet sometime next week. The meeting will be mediated by MyIPO. Some call this a matrimonial problem that we have to solve, but we didn’t ask to be married!

What’s the best outcome?

Manan: We can work with RPM. We have our members and interests, they have theirs. Those required to pay royalties would prefer dealing with one central body.

There is room for discussion. We know that more members do not necessarily mean a bigger share of royalties. The users are willing to pay, we just need a solution. The law doesn’t say only one body can exist to represent a party.

DJ Dave: We will get this ‘marriage’ in order. We have to compromise and get both bodies to work, because nobody is going to back out. Both parties would say we’re doing the right thing and we both have the licences to collect royalties.

How much does the artiste get?

Anuar: It depends on the collection, minus administrative and operational cost. The amount is subjective — it depends on airplay, frequency and where the music is played.

Ideally, performers’ rights would be safeguarded by law.

What does PRISM Bhd want?

Manan: We represent close to 1,400 performers nationwide. We want to support the law, work within the law, and be accorded the proper recognition.

Anuar: We hope PRISM Sdn Bhd will hand over of the money to the members. The artistes should get what is owed to them. This matter should not drag on any longer.

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