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INDIAN MUSIC COMPOSERS : "INSPIRATION" OR "COPYING"?


Strangely enough, as Mrinalini has been posting on youtube and copyright issues, I came across these youtube clippings of an interview dealing with the alleged “plagiarism in the Indian music industry”. I’ll briefly describe these interviews, not least because one is not certain when Youtube is likely to be put on notice that these are copyrighted clips.

These clips are from an interview that was broadcast on CNBC TV 18 (talk about copyright and youtube!!) by the hard hitter, Karan Thapar. And the interviewees are Anu Malik and Pritam Chakraborty, both of whom are music directors/composers, Mr Pravin Anand, Managing Partner, Anand and Anand and the country’s leading IP attorney (and my ex-boss), and Karthik S of the itwofs.com fame.

The interview starts off with almost all the interviewees admitting that copying tunes has been prevalent in the Indian music industry—not just now but even as far back as 50 years ago.

Case in Point: the movie Hatrick, where one of the tune is allegedly lifted from Harry Belafonte’s “the woman is smarter”. Of course, when Pritam is quizzed about this, he shifts the blame to Usha Uthup. Both he and the director of the film, Ronnie Screwvavla (UTV) also insist that these tunes constitute “generic” “Calypso music.

Similarly, Anu Mallik admits that he has lifted tunes–but tries to wriggle out stating that he was forced to do this by the Director/Producer of the movie who liked a particular tune. When quizzed further by the aggressive Thapar, he admits that it was only in one or two cases, where a Director/Producer has insisted that he do this.

As for Kartik S and how he came to tracking the lifting of music tunes (that served as “inspiration” for Indian music composers), he states that his dad would tune in to Spanish and Arabic stations and find tunes that were similar to the ones composed by stalwarts like OP Nayyar. The ItwoFS website states:

“ItwoFS is simply Inspirations in Indian Film Songs! 

And how does one pronounce the name of this site? Its eye-too-ef-es! 

The motive of this site is straight and simple – to provide a comprehensive list of musical inspirations (sometimes subtle and intelligent but mostly downright blatant!) of Indian film music composers. The list is constantly growing and the most important source of additions is the mails from this site’s visitors! And yes, this site focuses more on inspirations from international sources, rather than from inter-language inspirations in India. So I save considerable web space by not including Anand Milind’s inspirations from Ilayaraja and A R Rahman! :-)

Another key aspect is the difference between getting inspired to create the tune itself and using bass/ beats/ rhythm loops from foreign sources. Those songs listed which have their basic tunes inspired would have a prominent mark adjacent to them to denote a tune copy. Those without the mark signify use of rhythm loops, beats/ bass and so on. One cannot judge the intentions of the composer in both cases but yes, when a composer copies a tune, its generally assumed that his imagination is dry! This, notwithstanding the kind of excuses they give – “the producer came to me with the CD and said use this” and so on!

More on music plagiarism.

History of ItwoFS
Ever wondered how I got the idea to start this site? It was a mention about one of my ‘exploits’ in India Today. This was way back in 2001. I used to upload edited audio clips of copied and original tracks in a free server called Prohosting and used to post those links as proof in a oft-visited ‘Copied songs’ thread in TFM page! This included the 2 famous lifts in Nadeem Shravan’s Dhadkan, both lifted from the Middle East. Apparently the news spread fast and India Today did a piece on it in their back page in the issue dated September 3, 2001, with a mention of the link where I had uploaded it! Its a different story that they had printed the URL incomplete! But that was the beginning. I decided to catalog the whole thing instead of having it in a free server and posting it in a message board. Used to hang around in a free geocities server, then iespana and now my own server! Long way huh? “

When quizzed about the standard for copyright infringement in these cases, Mr Anand states that this depends on “quality” (of tunes lifted) and not “quantity” and that the line between using a tune as inspiration and “copying” is crossed when “the tune is easily recognizable as being a part of the older song/musical work. The lines are slightly fuzzy here, as, no matter how creative and original an artist is, some amount of unconscious copying/inspiration from earlier tunes is very likely.

Shamnad Basheer

Shamnad Basheer

Prof (Dr) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He is currently the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. He is also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Professor Basheer joinedAnand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Prof Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP and the Stanford Technology Law Review. He is consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also serves on several government committees.

One comment.

  1. Shamnad Basheer

    A friend of mine, Aysha Shaukat, an IP practitioner in India, writes:

    “Shamnad, it appears that the Indian music composers not only seek inspiration from world music, but also seem to have laid their hands (and ears as well) on traditional folklore music!
    Talking of Ilayaraja and Kollywood compositions, it is said that Ilayaraja has the largest archive of traditional Indian folklore music from where he draws ‘inspiration’ .

    Incidentally, one of his popular compositions is a direct lift from a traditional folklore song that has been traditionally sung at a temple procession in Madurai. The plagiarized version can be heard blaring on every street corner during festival times in the villages of Tamilnadu It is common practice to adopt(I deliberately choose the word ‘adopt’ over ‘adapt’ )folklore music to produce new age Indian music. Perhaps, Illayarajas’ intent was to invoke the divine blessings of Goddess Muthu Mariamman and not lift tunes sung in her praise!

    Copycat Versions of the Lavani is another such instance……If my recall is right, I remember seeing Madhuri Dixit gyrate to a hand me down version of the Lavani beat.

    Several such communities exist in India who depend on folk art for their livelihood. A rather sad observation is that in an age steeped in rapid commercialization
    and plagiarism of native art forms, many unsung folk heroes and communities seem to be rapidly loosing their identity and the right to livelihood.

    Sigh!

    Regards
    Aysha”

    Reply

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