One day, I was listening to Didi by Cheb Khaled, one of the most famous international Arab singers and realized that the tune was really familiar. The song Babia by Sajjad Ali instantly came to my mind and a cursory google search proved that it wasn’t Khaled who had copied the song. Sajjad Ali, a Pakistani singer had changed the lyrics and copied Babia note by note from Didi. This was the first time I seriously thought about international plagiarism and how widespread it could be.
Pritam, an immensely famous Bollywood star is one of the most notorious plagiarizers of the region. The widely loved Indian song, Bulleya, from the movie ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ which was the tune of every hip south Asian wedding in 2017 bears much resemblance to the Papa Roach’s song Last Resort. Papa Roach is a famous American rock band which probably doesn’t even know that its copied version is so popular in South Asia! The copyright issues don’t always go unnoticed though. Bollywood film producers have now started getting legal agreements signed by Pritam to ensure that they don’t end up getting sued for the music in their movies.
Perhaps one of the reasons that artists in south Asia are able to plagiarise content quickly is because while American and English music is heard by people of all nations, developing nations’ music does not have the same kind of international outreach. But why are pop and alternative songs the most popular for plagiarism? My take is that since these genres are the most widely listened to, the hit songs in them often end up making a lot more money for artists than maybe indie or jazz music would. Pop music appeals to the majority of people all around the globe. Taking a ‘catchy’ beat and molding it to new lyrics would be bound to make them a success. However, there is also less room for honest mistakes in these genres. Since thousands of songs employ the same instruments and a similar style of upbeat singing, it might not be hard to find similarities between artists.
Yet more often than not, plagiarism cases are proved to be based on substantial grounds for a claim. Katy Perry’s Dark Horse was almost completely stolen, according to renowned musicologist and professor, Todd Decker. He claimed that there was only a ‘half-step difference’ between the song Dark Horse and Joyful Noise, a Christian hip hop song. Only last month did Katy lose the lawsuit against her. Even world-renowned artists get caught red-handed.
But for artists seeking monetary compensation in damages, going to court is not always an easy feat. Shakira’s Waka Waka, one of the most popular football anthems to date is a remake of the Cameroonian song ‘ZangaWela’. Bram Posthumus, a West Africa correspondent for Radio Netherlands Worldwide, stated that the song was made in honor of African soldiers who fought in colonial armies and a very mild satire on African soldiers who used to oppress their own people in the name of the colonial power.
After many court visits, the matter was finally settled and the artists were compensated for their losses. Yet even though the financial loss was covered, the real cost to the original artists was much bigger than that. Most people still associate Waka Waka with Shakira and not the African band that came up with the song. When a song reaches such astronomical levels of fame for the wrong artist, the real sentiment behind the song often gets drowned out. And with it, indigenous voices and ideas that often talk about a far greater reality than just sports or entertainment.
And for third world artists, getting the financial resources and legal representation for fighting intellectual property lawsuits is a big hurdle in itself. The German brand Puma has run an entire publicity campaign in Paris using an African model, Ngando’s pictures without seeking his permission. He never got any monetary compensation from the brand and they simply ignored his pleas to address the issue.
Thus while plagiarism is a huge issue all over the world, the impact and extent of its damages vary according to region. It has been used for cultural appropriation, such as in the case of the blues in post-slavery America. It has been used for an easy rise to fame by Bollywood artists, exploitative gains by multinational corporations, and sometimes it just ends up being unintentional.