Musician Bilal Saeed counts his song ‘Baari’, sung in collaboration with Momina Mustehsan and released last year, as one of his biggest hits.

In an earlier interview with me, he called it a ‘gamechanger’ in his career. It was an unwelcome surprise for him when he heard the song playing in an ad for SoKamal’s luxury pret unstitched collection, ‘Mahtaab’.

Featuring actress Ayeza Khan in festive wear, the one minute long video was picturized to the song’s lilting, romantic tune.

Neither Momina Mustehsan or Bilal Saaed had been aware of the song being picked up by the brand. “It would have been quite easy for SoKamal’s team to reach out to me. The video, uploaded on YouTube, very clearly states that the song is owned by One Two Records, which is my record label,” says Bilal.

Bilal’s record label considered this a case of clear-cut copyright infringement and subsequently had the video struck off YouTube as well as Facebook. Given the circumstances, SoKamal also removed the video from their social media pages, uploading it yesterday with a new background score.

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Bilal, however, has sent the brand a legal notice. “This isn’t about money at all but about setting a precedent,” he says.

“This song was such a hit that immediately after its release, I got offers from an international record label that wanted to buy the rights to the song. I refused even though the offers were very lucrative. To have refused those offers and then, to have a brand from my own country simply pick up the song and use it, without even asking me, is a discredit to all the hard work that I had put in.”

“If only artists had done so in the past, our intellectual rights wouldn’t be infringed so callously. I just want to set an example that our hard work needs to be respected.”

Momina Mustehsan further elaborates, “As an artist, it is heartwarming to see other artists appreciate your work by making covers and renditions of your original track. They wouldn’t do so if the song didn’t resonate with them."

"However, the problem only arises when those covers of renditions are used for commercial purposes, especially by brands for advertising or selling their products. A song is essentially an ‘asset’ after its creation and release because it can be traded, sold or rented. This makes it the backbone of earnings in the ‘music ecosystem’.”

“The current case is not an isolated one. Such infringement of intellectual property has been practiced many times in our region. However, I believe that in most cases it happens because of a lack of awareness and understanding of intellectual property rights."

"For example, if any artist sings another artist’s song as a cover and uploads it on YouTube it is fine only as long as the content is not monetized. As soon as option for monetization is utilized, the YouTube algorithm checks the music the copyright compliance and determines whether the uploader is entitled to receiving revenue on the work. In case a commercial entity chooses to advertise or generate sales by making use of an ‘asset’ that they have not bought, bartered or licensed, it is a violation of intellectual property rights and thus illegal.”

But while there may be limited awareness in Pakistan regarding music copyrights laws, there have been many instances in the past when entire songs have had to be removed from electronic media because they are infringing on a musician or record label’s intellectual property.

Last year, the 12th season of Coke Studio constantly tackled copyright claims with songs getting struck off from YouTube when record labels and artists complained that their intellectual property had been used by the show, without their consent.

Singer Abrar-ulHaq’s rendition of his own song, ‘Billo de Ghar’, was struck off due to copyright claims made by EMI Pakistan, the record label which owns the rights to the music. The BTS of Shuja Haider’s Coke Studio 12 composition, ‘Saiyaan’ had to be removed from YouTube simply because it incorporated four words from another song: ‘Mae Ta Marr Janiya’. These lyrics are from a classic film song sung by Madam Nur Jehan and the rights to this song belonged to EMI Pakistan. The record label had the BTS struck down.

There are many other examples. Most of the music created by Junaid Jamshed and Vital Signs also belongs to EMI Pakistan. It’s why you may never hear ‘Aitebaar’ – one of Junaid Jamshed’s most soulful songs – sung as a tribute to him. You’ll probably hear ‘Uss Rah Par’ much more often, a song that EMI Pakistan does not own,

In this context, just picking a musician’s song and implementing it into a marketing video can lead to complications. SoKamal, in the context that they have already replaced the song with a different background score, stated in their official statement: “The allegations are frivolous in nature, absolutely baseless and contrary to facts. The artist and his record label’s act can best be termed as a concerted effort and attempt under a malicious plan to malign and blackmail the brand by defaming it for illegal, personal and financial gains. The company has resolved to take strict legal actions against the culprits for their libelous defamation and illegal acts.”