Coke Studio: 11 years in, new season of beloved music show runs afoul of copyright issues, but stays afloat

When you are 11 years in the running and 12 seasons in, hosting a culture-shaping music show can invite quite a set of challenges. At least that’s what any hardcore fan of Pakistan’s Coke Studio would perhaps reason at this point. 

After all, if you’ve stuck around for more than a decade glued to some of the most riveting renditions of folk, classical and fusion ever to be made, then you probably have some faith left in Coke Studio. As noted previously, it’s always stayed miles ahead in terms of legacy and song choices compared to its Indian counterpart, but we’ve all seen the chinks in the armour of the long-running show. 

However, the 12th season of Coke Studio faced down copyright claims not just once but thrice in the last month with its episodes, along with criticism that followed some of their song choices (remember Rahat Fateh Ali Khan singing on Junoon’s Sayonee?). While there was a big positive of producer and musician Rohail Hyatt – who was part of the original starting run of seasons – helming proceedings once again for season 12, clearly there’s been some unforeseen issues in terms of getting their legal side sorted out. 

 Coke Studio: 11 years in, new season of beloved music show runs afoul of copyright issues, but stays afloat

Abida Parveen and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan on the sets of Coke Studio season 7. Image via Facebook/ Coke Studio

On 21 November, Dawn reported that the powerhouse version of ‘Hairaan Hua’ performed by singer Sanam Marwi was taken off YouTube (where it goes out to over eight million subscribers on Coke Studio’s online channel) due to a copyright claim filed by singing legend Abida Parveen. Her son Sarang Latif told Dawn, "The rights to the composition [of 'Hairaan Hua'] are with us, registered in my mother’s name. It’s my mother’s intellectual property and they [Coke Studio] did not take permission from us [to use it]. They must have thought this was a traditional or folk composition, but it isn’t. My mother composes 99 percent of her songs herself." Last week, he added that they’re yet to take a decision on whether or not they’ll allow permission to Coke Studio to use the song and restore the episode, but the video is now back on YouTube, just past the 9,00,000 view mark. 

Previously, the fun-loving version of Abrar Ul Haq’s song ‘Billo’, heavy on nostalgia value, was taken down from YouTube due to a copyright claim from a label known as Karman Entertainment Limited. While details are sketchy on how this happened, ‘Billo’ continues to raise the roof on Coke Studio’s Facebook page, where there have clearly been no similar attempts to take it down. 

The third instance of copyright tangles this season came with the effervescent cover of Noor Jehan’s ‘Saiyaan’ by Shuja Haider and Rachel Viccaji. Following a temporary takedown, the difference with the groovy ‘Saiyaan’ was that it went back up after the issue was resolved. This claim was made by record label EMI Pakistan. Hyatt said in a statement quoted on OyeYeah, "If it was another song that EMI might have claimed rights to then I would have been happy to accept the claim through the proper channel. However, with ‘Saiyaan’, I’m not sure if it falls under copyright infringement. Perhaps matters like this should be decided by a court of law." 

Featuring heavy hitters such as Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Zoe Viccaji, Zeb Bangash and Ali Sethi, Rohail Hyatt has certainly brought some of the original magic back to Coke Studio. But it’s certainly embarrassing to know that the legal teams of Coca Cola or even anyone involved in making the new season of the series didn’t look into all copyright and legal aspects. For a show that’s running for more than a decade now, one would think Coke Studio have their licences sorted out, but clearly it’s been a bit lax. The ordeal certainly sours some of the original hype behind Hyatt returning to the live performance series after about five years and also probably stifled some of the huge numbers of views that any Coke Studio episode receives over time. 

There are claims by the Express Tribune that there have been budget cuts and “incessant interference on part of the brand” that’s changed the way Coke Studio has functioned, but right now, Hyatt and his team clearly have to tread carefully. Especially if it’s likely that this will be his final season with the show, which is now increasingly being rivalled by live performance series such as Nescafe Basement

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Updated Date: Nov 28, 2019 10:44:17 IST