Copyright

Finally, an Indian music composer gets sued for allegedly copying a foreign melody!


In a decision that is bound to have an impact on the creative faculties of Indian music composers, Justice Manmohan Singh of the Delhi High Court on the 21st of September, 2011 acting on a copyright infringement claim, filed by Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt, has passed an ex-parte interim injunction against Deepak Dev, an awarding-winning music composer from Kerala; and the producers & distributors of the Malyalam movie ‘Urmi’. The order however is restricted to the proposed release of the movie and the impugned song in the Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English languages. The Court has not included in the terms of the injunction, the music which has already been released in the Malyalam version i.e. ‘Urmi’. 
Loreena McKennitt, (pictured on left, image from here) a Canadian singer, famous for her Celtic music has claimed that Dev’s composition – ‘Aaro Nee Aaro’ – in the hit Malyalam movie ‘Urumi’, has been directly lifted from two of her own compositions by the name ‘Caravanserai’ and ‘The Mummers’ Dance’. McKennitt appears to have an extremely strong prima facie case in her favour. All three songs are available on Youtube, over here, here and here. In fact if you have a look at the comments on this video and this video you can see some pretty scathing remarks against Deepak Dev by some of his fans who appear to be terribly disappointed with this promising young music composer. Sample some of these comments: 
(i) @piper42 thanks bro for pointing this out.i was turning to be a fan of deepak dev…not any more and; 
(ii) @manimanijacobjacob: I used to think of Deepak Dev in a respectable manner. But NOT ANY MORE. Do you think we malayalees are fools ? Do you think by advertising statements like “already been stated in various interviews”, you can get away with it ? Sorry. I have NEVER ever seen nor heard a mention of Loreena McKennitt anywhere during the promotions, nor interviews, not just by Dev, but also it has never been mentioned by the producer of the movie, Prithviraj. Its straight STEALING, admit it. 
Apart from suing Dev (pictured right, image from here) for copyright infringement of her melodies, McKennitt is also suing for violation of her ‘moral rights’ or ‘special rights’ under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 which not only give her a right to attribution but also a right to protect her work against mutilation or distortion or synchronisation with particular visual images. If you see the picturization of the impugned song ‘Aaro Nee Aaro’, you’ll notice that it is slightly on the sensual side (depending on your idea of sensuality), while McKennitt’s original numbers are set to more sobering lyrics. 
On the lighter side, just to give you a simple analogy of the importance of moral rights and visual synchronisation: imagine somebody taking Kolaveri Di and syncing it with visuals of Mallika Sherawat gyrating to the original tune of Jalebi Bhai and just imagine how offended the composers of Kolaveri D would feel! Seriously though, music can be intensely personal to every composer and to take a melody out of context can and should attract the force of the law. 
This particular decision of the Delhi High Court is particularly welcome because for much too long Indian composers, especially the biggies, have been blatantly ripping off foreign melodies, without paying a dime or even attributing the same to the original composers. Save for a few exceptions, like when Karan Johar bought the rights to the ‘Pretty Woman’ song, for his movie ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ the rest of the flock have rarely ever drawn the line between inspiration and plagiarism. In fact the situation is so bad in Bollywood that earlier this year Anu Malik had claimed that Pritam’s super-hit number ‘Character Dheela’ had been ripped off from his composition in ‘Mohabbat naam hai kiska’; when in fact Anu Malik’s number itself was ripped off from Bappi Lahiri’s hit number ‘Disco Dancer’, which in itself is ripped off from Modern Talking’s ‘Brother Louie’! We had blogged about that controversy over here
This decision of the Delhi High Court should hopefully shakeup the Bollywood music industry. Apart from music composers, entertainment lawyers should take adequate care while conducting a ‘due diligence’ on any music because the injunction in this present case is not only against Dev but also the producer of the movie, August Cinema (India) Pvt. Ltd and also the distributors Manorama Music and Moser Baer Entertainment Ltd. One man’s mistake can have a rippling effect through the entire industry especially since these days film music is exploited through multiple avenues. 
McKennitt and her co-plaintiffs were represented by Advocates Nikhil Krishnamurthy and Sai Krishna Rajagopal. The order is available over here on the website of the Delhi High Court.
Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP). He has recently been appointed as an Assistant Professor at NALSAR, Hyderabad, starting September 1, 2017.

12 comments.

  1. Anonymous

    Come on Prashant, our musician brothers get inspired…. after all, isn’t our culture about sharing from seniors to juniors?

    Ms. McKennitt should learn to have a ‘BIG’ heart and share the fun and joy of her music with us ‘younger’ Indians 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Personally, I was more happy when Bappi got a BIG kick on his behind … you guys had covered that story so well … wonder whether Bappi actually went ahead and paid the damages.

    Regards,
    Freq. Anon.

    Reply
  2. Prashant Reddy

    Lol! You’re right FA – Bappi and even Anu Malik are the actual culprits for starting off this trend of blatant copying and now even Pritam is following suit.

    I’ll try and find out what happened to Bappi’s case.

    Cheers,
    Prashant

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    This Suing looks childish because Deepak devs song has a lot of variations from the so called loreena who is unheard of in india . A typical celtic format is seen in both of them which is well produced by both .Also there have been so many cases where a perfect copy has never been identified . Funny to take up an issue on it … Mehbooba from rd Burma , kambakt ishq from Sandeep chowta, anumaliks 90% tunes ,Pritam ib a numerous songs , even Ar Rahman can be mentioned for so many songs that had never been taken up for an issue .

    Reply
  4. S

    McKennitt indeed appears to have this case in her favour.
    I recall one interview of Pancham da on our much celebrated doordarshan (the only tv channel in those days) ….he told the story behind how the evergreen music of “mere sapnonki rani kab ayeegi tu” was conceived….he was inspired by a western melody which was comparatively faster in its rhythm. So Panchamda took one bit off and made it slower, of course with his own charismatic talent and all, made this superb number of aradhana….I think this is a true inspiration…
    I am not good into the western music so don’t have the details of this foreign song but yes, we have another song from movie haqeeqat (tabbu and ajay devgan) which is on the dot “inspired” by this song
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4qZkZFqdeo&feature=relmfu
    I guess you guys must have got an idea about the original song….

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    When I first heard ‘Caravanserai’ and ‘Mummer’s Dance’ I felt they were quite like Indian Classical; I think we should copyright all the ‘Raagas’ and ‘Taals’, which are invaluable research of our ancient Musicians, the Trinity and Hindustani composers. Out of my own experience, I can very well place these two songs in to one of our Raagas. There are many many Indian Cinema songs composed in these tunes since long long time ago, much before Loreena composed what she claims to be her originality.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Deepak dev is definitely a talented musician.But unfortunately he was caught for copying.I hope he can still give hits like parayathe ariyathe,velmuruga etc

    Reply
  7. aloshya

    The fact is that, composers are forced by the so called producers and directors to copy songs..actuallu they are give the reference tracks to the composers and they demand that they want the same..there is no other option than obeying he producers or else get sued by them..so please dont blame the composer of copying…the public is blind..they dont know what is happening on back stage…

    Reply
  8. Joe

    So i was sitting down to watch THE EXORCIST (PART 2) … and the background score seemed ‘hauntingly’ familiar…you’d feel the same too.. try it.

    Reply
  9. Joe Peter

    So i was sitting down to watch THE EXORCIST (PART 2) … and the background score seemed ‘hauntingly’ familiar…you’d feel the same too.. try it.

    Reply

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