Rockstars Battle on Copyright Royalties

One of Indonesian prolific songwriters who is also the founder and leader of a renowned rock band Dewa 19, Ahmad Dhani Prasetyo, has engaged himself in a feud regarding public performance of his works with one of the band’s former lead vocalist, Once Mekel, who is also famous for his distinctive voice and unique vocal range.

The tension began when the band was preparing for its first reunion concert after more than a decade long hiatus following Once’s resignation as the band’s lead vocalist in 2011. The concert itself –  held in a new and modern Jakarta International Stadium – was a massive success with the attendance of approximately 75.000 fans and concertgoers, including some of the country’s most prominent political figures. Once – along with the band’s original vocalist, Ari Lasso – was involved in the concert. The former’s absence in the band’s subsequent appearance when touring other Indonesian cities was however raised some speculations among fans.

After a series of exchange in various media, including social media, on March 28, 2023, Ahmad Dhani announced publicly that starting from that date, he forbids Once from singing any of Dewa 19’s songs written by Dhani in any event where Once performs without the band. Dhani’s fear that Once’s public performance of the former’s songs might disrupt the planned concert tour that would extend throughout 2023. Once responded in a press conference held two days after Dhani’s public announcement. Accompanied by his lawyer, Once – who himself is a lawyer, stated that Dhani’s statement may discourage event organizers and concert promoters alike from working with him in near future, while questioning legal grounds for the ban.

This issue raised one substantial question, which is whether or not it is possible for an author – or in this case, a songwriter – who is also the copyright owner of the works, to forbid anyone from performing the works, especially in commercial circumstances?

According to Article 9 of the Law no. 28 of 2014 concerning Copyrights, an author or copyright owner of copyrighted works holds exclusively the economic rights to – among others – public performance of the works. This Article in particular was frequently cited by Ahmad Dhani as the primary legal grounds for his ban against Once’s performance of his songs. On the other hand, however, Once’s side argued that according to Article 23(5) of the same law, anyone can use any copyrighted work for commercial purpose in a performance without having to get the author’s permission, by making payment to the author through the National Collective Management Organization (LMKN), which was specifically designated by the copyright law to collect and consolidate royalty payments for songwriters.

As a matter of fact, Dhani himself is a member of WAMI, a collecting management organization (LMK) that operates under the coordination of the LMKN, which acts as a his representative in royalty collection. Accordingly in this situation, as Once argue, he does need Dhani’s permission in performing the latter’s song as long as he already pays for the royalties through WAMI.

It is still unknown as to how this feud would turn out in the end. However, this could serve as a good test case on how public performance license in Indonesia is regulated and organized under the current copyright law through the LMKN.


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