The makers of the Kannada movie Kantara, including director Rishab Shetty and others representing Hombale Films, will appear before the investigating officer of the Kozhikode Town police station on Sunday, 12 February, in relation to the copyright infringement case filed against them.
On 8 February, the Kerala High Court had allowed them anticipatory bail with certain conditions in place. The conditions were later set aside by the Supreme Court on Friday, after a special leave petition (SLP) was filed before the apex court, challenging the high court order.
However, the high court’s directive to the Kantara makers to appear before the investigating officer remains unchanged. As per the court order, “the petitioner shall surrender before the Investigating Officer for two days —12 and 13 February — between 10 am and 1 pm, for interrogation.”
A game-changing case
The copyright dispute between popular Malayalam rock band Thaikkudam Bridge, Mathrubhumi, and Hombale Films is considered an important case as it can have widespread impact on future copyright cases in the realm of arts and music.
South First traces the chronology of the case that was filed in October last year by Thaikkudam Bridge who claimed the song Varaha Roopam from Kantara was a “rip off” of their musical composition Navarasam.
A criminal case in this regard was also filed by Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Company Ltd, the owners of the copyrights of the song Navarasam.
Thaikkudam Bridge’s allegation
The controversy began on 24 October, 2022, when the popular Kerala-based rock band Thaikkudam Bridge announced on their Facebook page that their music album Navarasam had been plagiarised as the song Varaha Roopam in Kantara.
In the post, the band requested the support of their listeners and artists to spread the word and raise their voices about the issue. They also threatened legal action against the makers of the movie.
“We would like our listeners to know that Thaikkudam Bridge is in no way or form affiliated with the film Kantara,” read the Facebook post put up by Thaikkudam Bridge.
They stated that the similarities in terms of audio between their song Navarasam — published on YouTube five years ago — and the song Varaha Roopam from Rishab Shetty’s Kannada film Kantara was a blatant infringement of copyright laws.
Speaking to South First, Thaikkudam Bridge’s band manager Sujith Unnithan said, “Our friends from the music community thought we gave the rights of Navarasam to the producers of Kantara. But the song is a total rip-off, including the guitar riffs, drum patterns, and everything. You can understand it if you listen to both songs. Musicians will definitely understand and this can even be identified by the general public.”
Surprisingly, when asked by a Kannada TV channel about the “inspiration” from Thaikkudam Bridge’s Navarasam, Kantara music director B Ajaneesh Loknath attributed the similarities between the songs to the raga.
Also Read: Kantara song a blatant infringement of copyright: Thaikkudam Bridge
Interim order filed
Days after a case was filed by Thaikkudam Bridge, the Kozhikode sessions court judge passed an ad-interim order on 28 October.
The court issued a temporary injunction restraining Hombale Films, Rishab Shetty, Ajaneesh Loknath, and streaming services — including Amazon Prime that was scheduled to stream the movie from 4 November — from playing Varaha Roopam until the disposal of the suit.
The court also issued notices restraining digital platforms such as JioSaavn, iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube from playing the song without the permission of the music band.
The court observed that Thaikkudam Bridge has rights under Section 57 of the Copyrights Act. The section deals with the authorship of a work.
According to the Act: “The author of a work shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to restrain or claim damages in respect to any distortion, mutilation, modification, or other acts in relation to the said work.”
Mathrubhumi files criminal suit
And if Thaikkudam Bridge’s case wasn’t enough, Mathrubhumi too jumped on the bandwagon. On 5 November last year, Mathrubhoomi Printing and Publishing Company — the copyright owners of Navarasam — filed a complaint before the Kozhikode Town police station and an FIR against Hombale films and others for the offences punishable under Section 63 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
Mathrubhumi also filed a case in this regard with the Palakkad district court.
Meanwhile, in what as a setback to both Thaikkudam Bridge and Mathrubhumi, the Kozhikode sessions court and the Palakkad district court — on 25 November and 3 December, respectively — held that the cases had to be transferred to a commercial court, stating that the dispute is commercial in nature and that they had no jurisdiction to try such a commercial dispute.
The lower court order was, however, challenged by Thaikkudam Bridge on 1 December, 2022. This led to the high court clarifying that the lower court has the jurisdiction to settle the dispute and granted a stay of operation of the lower court order.
Also Read: Bhoota Kola as shown in Kantara is not Hindu culture, says Chetan
Kantara maker’s plea for anticipatory bail
On 21 January, in response to the complaint filed by Mathrubhumi at the Kozhikode Town police station, the makers of Kantara applied for anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1972.
The high court, on 8 February, allowed the anticipatory bail, but imposed certain conditions on the petitioners.
The Kerala High Court, in its order, set the condition restraining the exhibiting of the movie Kantara, along with the song Varaha Roopam, until a settlement is reached in the civil cases that are pending.
The court in its judgement also said that the investigating officer can interrogate the accused. It further stated that on completion of interrogation and on such production, the “jurisdictional court shall release the petitioners on bail on their executing bonds for ₹50,000 each, with two solvent sureties each for the like amount to the satisfaction of the jurisdictional court concerned”.
Supreme Court steps in
On Friday, 10 February, two days after the high court ruling, the matter was taken for urgent hearing to the Supreme Court. The apex court set aside the bail conditions that were imposed in the high court order in a plea filed by the makers of Kantara.
The Supreme Court in its judgement said that pending further orders, the condition shall be modified as “the petitioners shall appear before the investigating officer on 12 and 13 February 2023, and, in the event that the petitioners are arrested, they shall be released on bail forthwith, subject to the terms and conditions set out in the order of the high court”.
Also Read: Plagiarism row: SC intervenes to provide relief to producer, director
Speaking to South First Mahesh Thakur, the lawyer representing the makers of Kantara, said that they raised objections regarding two conditions — the bail as well as the condition that requires the petitioners to go to police and participate in the investigation.
“To that extent there is no problem, but thereafter, it gives power to the police to produce the petitioners before the magistrate court and from there, they should ask for bail,” he stated.
According to Thakur, this is not the normal way. “Normally, in anticipatory bail, the police may ask (you) to be present for investigation and in case they want to arrest you, the anticipatory bail will relieve you. In this case, the condition could be misused by the police.”
Satish Murthi, the lawyer who represented Thaikkudam Bridge, told South First that the makers of Kantara misinformed the court by stating false information. He added that they will continue to fight it legally in court.
‘They should participate in the trial’
Soon after the Supreme Court judgement, Sujith Unnithan told South First that they stand firmly with the demand which the band had put forth at the beginning, which was to give them due credit, and added that their demands have not changed.
However, according to Unnithan, the makers of Kantara were evading the trial.
“Although we see it as an ongoing violation of the copyright law, one of the demands that we have raised is that the Kantara makers should cooperate with the trial. Thus, we don’t see the Supreme Court intervention as a setback for us, neither does it negatively impact the interests of the band in any manner,” he stated.
South First’s calls to the makers of Kantara, including film director Rishab Shetty, were unanswered.