Pakistani pop singer and philanthropist Shehzad Roy is suing the Coca-Cola Company for infringement of his intellectual property rights.
According to a press release issued by Roy, the company’s recent campaign for its brand Sprite — ‘Sprite Refreshment 2017’ — was originally run with his 2008 hit ‘Laga Rahe’ in early April. However, the singer alleges that he never gave official go-ahead for the use of his song in the said advertisement.
"[Coca-Cola's ad agency] Soho Square approached my team to enter into an Agreement in order to use my song ‘Laga Rahe’ for Coca-Cola Company’s advertising campaign ‘Sprite Refreshment 2017’," said Roy in the press release.
"Soho Square and my team had exchanged drafts of this Agreement but the final contract with Soho Square had NOT been concluded and signed, owing to the fact that I had to further review and revise a few clauses of the Agreement. [...] Despite this, Soho Square and Coca-Cola Company went ahead and developed the advertisement of the brand ‘Sprite’ with my licensed song even though I was still reviewing the Agreement."
"My team had strictly conveyed to the ad agency that since 'Laga Rahe' contains a very powerful sociopolitical message, it must not be distorted in any way or conceptually changed for the advertisement campaign," says Shehzad Roy in a press release. According to Roy, this condition was not met
Roy has also taken exception to the distortion of his song 'Laga Rahe's "powerful sociopolitical message" by the "the visual representations contained in the advertisement."
'Laga Rahe', which came out in 2008, was a satirical song that took a jab at the establishment and hinted at the injustices borne by Pakistan's common man, who has been lulled into a state of inaction.
In the Sprite ad, however, the song is a soundtrack to a young man's dogged quest to quench his thirst with a bottle of Sprite while his hometown is destroyed by a Godzilla-inspired monster.
Roy says, "My team had also strictly conveyed to them that since the licensed song contains a very powerful sociopolitical message, it must not be distorted in any way or conceptually changed for the advertisement campaign. We also stressed that Soho Square must have the concept of the advertisement approved by me before using the licensed song for the advertisement." According to Roy this did not happen.
Soho Square, on the other hand, holds that Roy had signed off on the particulars of the ad before it was aired.
The ad agency's statement reads as follows, "SOHO Square was in discussions with Shehzad Roy's team regarding use of his song ‘Laga Reh’, for our esteemed client, The Coca-Cola Export Corporation, Pakistan Branch. All contractual and monetary negotiations regarding rights’ acquisition for this song were amicably agreed upon, against a handsome amount that was also mutually agreed. The final copy of the said advertisement was sent to Shehzad Roy for final review before airing. We were later informed by Shehzad Roy’s team that the agreement has been signed and ready to be collected from his office. However, after airing of the advertisement, Shehzad Roy complained to our client that his song has been used without completing legal formalities. Upon receiving this complaint, we replaced the song with our own jingle and Shehzad Roy’s team was informed of this move. As a responsible & leading advertising organization, we have fulfilled all legal requirements during the process."
"All contractual and monetary negotiations regarding rights’ acquisition for this song were amicably agreed upon, against a handsome amount that was also mutually agreed. [...] However, after airing of the advertisement, Shehzad Roy complained to our client that his song has been used without completing legal formalities. Upon receiving this complaint, we replaced the song with our own jingle," reads Soho Square's official statement
Roy, however, tells a different story. He says that the original ad ran for seven days from April 3 to April 9 before it was pulled off the air. The ad can currently be seen on Sprite Pakistan's social media with a different soundtrack.
"We expeditiously informed Coca-Cola Company regarding the violation contained in the aforementioned advertisement, but they failed to ensure that the advertisement was taken off air immediately. Instead, the Coca-Cola Company deliberately, willfully and in collusion with Soho Square continued to display the said advertisement with my song for a few more days, during which time the Coca-Cola Company continued to benefit from the display of this advertisement. The fact that the advertisement with my song was halted from display after 9th April, 2017, confirms that both Soho Square and Coca-Cola Company accept and admit their liability of intellectual property rights infringement."
Roy says that he decided to take the issue to courts for the benefit of Pakistan's whole musical community.
"In this last decade, I’ve stood up against many social injustices but when my own intellectual property (IP) rights were violated, I was advised by my friends and colleagues not to get into a legal battle with a giant corporation. They felt that powerful individuals and organizations in Pakistan get away with illegally occupying people’s material property, so what hope would I have with claiming my intellectual property rights. But such arguments have only motivated me further to take up this case and fight for my rights, so no other artist in Pakistan has to face such blatant intellectual property rights infringement again.
"Corporations like Coca Cola are very cautious with intellectual property rights issues in western countries and even in India because they know they will be held accountable for any infringements. Yet these same corporations act with complete impunity in Pakistan, believing that they are above the law and can get away with any infringement of intellectual property rights.
"Such an abuse of the basic rights of artists has resulted in a decay of the arts, which are a hallmark of Pakistani culture. Hence, this is no longer only a personal fight for me but is a fight for the basic right of every artist, writer and performer in Pakistan."