Shah Abdul Karim’s songs passed off as ‘traditional music’

Shah Abdul Karim
Prothom Alo

Without the permission of Shah Abdul Karim’s family, two top Indian music labels, Saregama and T-Series have been releasing his songs on YouTube, Spotyfy and social media for years.

In fact, the music video of the song ‘Agey Ki Shundor Din Kataitam’ didn’t even mention the name of Shah Abdul Karim, the original creator of the song. Rather, T-Series has passed the song off as a ‘traditional’ folk song.

Copyright experts are calling the release of songs (intellectual property) without copyright owners’ permission, ‘theft’. Plus, they are considering it a serious crime to pass off that song as ‘traditional’ folk song.

Looking into the matter it was found that Saregama had recorded Karim’s song ‘Ami Bangla Mayer Chele’ in 2006 and ‘Agey Ki Shundor Din Kataitam’ along with ‘Gaan Gai Amar’ in 2007. Meanwhile, T-Series recorded the song ‘Ami Tomar Koler Gari’ back in 2012 and released a music video of the song ‘Agey Ki Shundor Din Kataitam’ on 27 September.

None of the two companies took permission from Karim or his family. His family has expressed their anger over the issue of Karim’s songs being passed off as ‘traditional’ music.

His son Shah Nur Jalal, also a Baul musician, filed a complaint with Bangladesh Copyright office against T-Series on 1 October. Earlier on 17 September, he filed a complaint against Saregama also.

Shah Nur Jalal asked compensation from Saregama and T-series. He told Prothom Alo on last Monday, “T-Series and Saregama have released the songs without our permission. In fact, they didn’t even mention my father’s name. This cannot be accepted in any way.”

Shah Abdul Karim

After the death of Shah Abdul Karim, his son Shah Nur Jalal got the song ‘Agey Ki Shundor Din Kataitam’ copyright registered on 4 November 2010. The number of the copyright certificate is 12094. As Karim’s descendant, Nur Jalal received the copyright for all of his father’s musical creation.

Former registrar of Bangladesh Copyright Office Zafar Raza Chowdhury told Prothom Alo on last Monday that it’s a terrible crime. Releasing songs without taking permission from the copyright owner is indeed called ‘theft’.

The song is copyright registered in Shah Abdul Karim’s name. It cannot be claimed to be a ‘traditional’ song just like that based on assumption, he added.

According to the copyright act, none of Abdul Karim’s songs including ‘Agey Ki Shundor Din Kataitam’ can be commercially released without the copyright owner, Shah Nur Jalal’s approval. If done so, it will be considered an infringement of section no 71 of the copyright act. In fact, there are punishments for breaching the copyright act.

Towards 1978-79, Shah Abdul Karim wrote and composed the song ‘Agey Ki Shundor Din Kataitam’ as part of a campaign run by the local government. He even performed the song himself. Going beyond the borders of the country, he performed the song in London also.

The song was included in the book ‘Kalnir Dheu’, a collection of Shah Abdul Karim’s songs published in September 1981. His family has got all the songs from that book copyright registered.

Zafar Raza Chowdhury said, “The fact that it’s a song created by Shah Abdul Karim, doesn’t need any more proofs. The song has Shah Abdul Karim’s name in it. He performed the song for decades throughout his lifetime.”  

Shah Abdul Karim
File Photo

Not all folk songs are ‘traditional’

Not just Shah Abdul Karim, Lalon, Radharaman Dutta, or Hason Raja’s songs are also often passed off as ‘traditional music’. Such tendencies are noticed among artistes from both Dhaka and Kolkata.

Regarding Karim’s song ‘Agey Ki Shundor Din Kataitam’ being passed off as ‘traditional music’, Kolkata-based folk singer Pousali Banerjee told Prothom Alo on last Monday that she too has noticed the issue and it’s in no way justified.

In Pousali’s opinion, “We do not put in any research into distribution of folk songs; rather we haphazardly write ‘traditional’ in the credit. We do use the word traditional for Manna Dey or Lata Mungeshkar’s songs. But we do label folk songs as traditional music as if folk songs are like orphans without parents. Before distributing folk songs, one should look for the person that song belongs to.”

Pousali regularly practices songs of Radharaman Dutta, Hason Raja and Shah Abdul Karim. She also said that if she is unaware of the names of the lyricist or composer of any particular song, she takes help from Bangladeshi researchers.

T-Series isn’t bothered

India’s largest record label T-Series has been releasing songs for four decades now. Alongside Hindi songs, the company has been releasing Bengali songs also for about a year. Young Indian talent, Gurujeet Singh has sung the song 'Agey Ki Shundar Din Kataitam' for T-Series.

He told Prothom Alo on Monday, “The song was released on YouTube from Mumbai, I asked T-Series to add Shah Abdul Karim’s name on the day it was released. In fact, I informed them today (yesterday) also, but still the name wasn’t added.

To know their statement on the issue, Prothom Alo had sent an e-mail to Varun Arora, an officer at the international distribution department of T-Series on Monday, but there was no response.

Young Indian talent, Gurujeet Singh has sung the song 'Agey Ki Shundar Din Kataitam' for T-Series.
taken from the video

Although, T-Series isn’t bothered about the matter, Gurujeet Singh ‘appologised’ to the Bangladeshi audience. He said that permission should have been taken from Shah Abdul Karim's family and it’s inappropriate to label his songs as ‘traditional music’. Meanwhile, Saregama too was sent an e-mail on Tuesday to know about their reaction, but they did not respond either.

The way out of it

Bangladesh Copyright Office does not have the jurisdiction to take action against any foreign company. So, what’s the way out of it now? Copyright experts say that there are scopes for action under ‘Universal Copyright Convention’, an international agreement on copyright.

Both Bangladesh and India have signed this agreement. The copyright offices of the two countries can work together to protect intellectual property rights,

Zafar Raja Chowdhury said that the Bangladesh Copyright Office can send a complaint regarding copyright issues of Shah Abdul Karim’s songs to the Copyright Office of India. And, the Copyright Office of India can take action (compensation) against the accused if the allegations are proved.

However, the Bangladesh Copyright Office has followed a different path instead of filing a complaint with the Indian Copyright Office. This sort of complications can also be solved through any organisaton listed with Collective Management Organisations (CMOs). Bangladesh Composers and Performers Society (BLCPS) represents CMO in the country.

BLCPS’s chief executive officer Hamin Ahmed told Prorthom Alo on Monday that the complaint received from the Copyright Office has been sent to Indian CMO organisations IPRS as well as T-Series and Saregama. But, they have not sent any responses yet.

Zafar Raja Chowdhury however said that there is a possibility of finding quicker solutions if the complaint is submitted directly to the Copyright Office of India instead of going through BLCPS organisations.

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