A controversy is brewing in Kerala over who owns the copyright for the different styles of traditional percussion ensemble that form the crux of the state’s temple festivals. A host of YouTubers and social media videographers are up in arms against American giant Sony Music Entertainment for claiming copyright over the state’s temple percussion styles such as ‘pandi melam’ and ‘panchavadyam’.
They allege that their videos of live percussion ensembles from temple festivals across Kerala on YouTube and Facebook are being marked for copyright violation by Sony Music as they sound similar to the tracks of a film named ‘The Sound Story’, starring Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty. The multi-lingual movie released earlier this year, whose audio tracks are the copyright of Sony Music, explores Pookutty’s dreams of recording the original sounds of ‘Thrissur Pooram’, Kerala’s grandest temple festival.
“After the release of the film, whenever we upload any video of a percussion ensemble from any temple festival in Kerala, we get a copyright notice from Sony. On the day of the Pooram, while we were recording the ‘melam’ (percussion assembly) live on Facebook, it abruptly stopped and still remains blocked,” said Anto, who operates ‘Live Media’ that covers temple festivals and events on social media.
YouTube and Facebook have automated settings that block content for which copyright is already owned by someone else. Copyrighted content from the top publishers are available on an online database against which content uploaded to most online platforms are matched for violations. Creators of such content can dispute the claim and get the strike released to unblock the content. In the case of Thrissur Pooram music, a match happens easily because in the temple rituals the arrangements are almost exactly the same every time.
Satheesh, another online videographer based in Thrissur, spoke of the same experience while live-streaming the Thrissur Pooram through a Facebook page that has hundreds of subscribers. Minutes after the video was blocked, he got a notification from Sony that read, “Your video has been blocked because it may contain music, audio or video that belongs to someone else. Your video matches 1 minute and 29 seconds of audio owned by Sony Music Entertainment.”
They allege that the videos they post online attract copyright violation essentially because they contain similar audio tracks of different percussion styles like ‘pandi melam’ and ‘panchavadyam’ which were recorded live for ‘The Sound Story’ as well. The ‘pandi melam’ style of percussion involves instruments like chenda (drums), ilathalam (cymbals), kuzhal (a double-reed wind instrument) and kombu (wind instrument). In ‘panchavadyam’, ‘thimila’ (an hour-glass shaped instrument), ‘maddalam’ (drums), ilathalam (cymbals), idakka (hour-glass shaped drums) and kombu (wind instrument) are used. “If I live-stream 2.5 hours of the Pandi Melam, the audio in my video may have matched their (Sony) audio for just one minute. But still the entire 2.5 hours falls under their copyright,” said Satheesh.
Pookutty responded to the controversy in a Facebook post late Wednesday night denying allegations that he had ‘sold the copyright of the Pooram’ to Sony. “To put it clearly, I don’t own the copyright or the IPR of the film Sound Story. It is owned by the producers namely #PrasadPrabhakarProductions and #PalmstoneMultimedia They are the ones who have contractual obligations with Sony Music and Sony Pictures… As far as I know, #SonyPictures has been given the distribution rights of the film Sound Story film only and nothing else,” he wrote.
He also shared a copy of the email clarification he got from Sony which read, “Any content of the album partially or fully by third parties in social media without permissions from copyright hold will get claimed automatically by fingerprinting technology of the partner, no manual claim are done by Sony Music. The contents whatever Sony holds its rights are purely recorded and sound designed and mixed by Resul Pookutty, only for the film ‘The Sound Story’.”
An email with questions to Sony Music went unanswered.
The Paramekkavu temple administration, which participates in the Thrissur Pooram, said it will study the situation and take legal action against Sony and the producers of the film if necessary. “I’m trying to gather as many facts and figures. These are all public events that nobody can copyright. They have been going on for ages and nobody has any copyright over such artistic forms of music. It has not been created either by Sony or by Resul Pookutty. If so many people are facing problems, then it is a genuine issue. I’m taking legal opinion,” said G Rajesh, secretary of the temple administration.