Copyright protection and the proper disbursement of royalties have been issues that artistes in all fields of entertainment have wanted to resolve for decades. In recent years, due to relentless campaigns from various musical and film organisations, the process of obtaining copyright was imminently becoming normalised by artistes.
Three such organisations -- Bangladesh Musical Bands' Association (BAMBA), Music Industries Owners Association of Bangladesh (MIB) and Bangladesh Film Producers and Distributors Association (BFPDA) -- called for a joint press conference in a hotel in the capital yesterday. Allegations of intimidation and fabricated lawsuits in the name of copyright protection were raised against lawyer Wolora Afrin and her organisation, Licensing and Collecting Society for Cinematograph Film (LCSCF). "We strongly condemn the actions taken by Wolora Afrin," said BAMBA president Hamin Ahmed in the conference, "These lawsuits serve no purpose other than to harass artistes for personal gain." MIB President A K M Arifur Rahman shed light on the fact that none of the people from LCSCF have any affiliations with the music or film industry. BFPDA president Khorshed Alam Khasru expressed shock at these misconducts, and mentioned that the attorney that had even tried to cast a legal trap on top actor and producer Shakib Khan. Artistes in the conference came forward to share their stories of being manipulated by her.
The situation escalated when Wolora Afrin, on behalf of her plaintiff -- renowned lyricist Moniruzzaman Monir -- previously filed an FIR against executive members of Qinetic Network on not only the Copyright Act, but also the controversial 2018 Digital Security Act. Jamshed Chowdhury, Client Services Director at Qinetic and Powersurge's lead vocalist, was arrested because of the FIR. "We have call records, proposals and emails that prove that Wolora Afrin wanted to partner up with us in a deal," said Jamshed, who claims that that the arrest was a direct result of the lawyer's vindictiveness against Qinetic. The aforementioned call record sheds light on Wolora Afrin insisting on a percentage amount deal that she insisted would lead to proper royalty disbursements for lyricists and songwriters. Jamshed's arrest stepped on nerves in the musical and film fraternity, which spiraled into unity against devious lawsuits and harassment.
"We work on behalf of labels and musicians (who own their rights to the content) to generate revenue on YouTube. We do not own any content, as we work on behalf of the labels," said Sharaf Nafees Nazar, the owner of Qinetic Network. "Disputes do arise from time to time but they are dealt with the claimant and the label owner privately."
Soon after, the plaintiff in question – Moniruzzaman Monir – released a video on social media, claiming that his attorney, Wolora Afrin, had worked against his wishes, even when he specifically instructed her that any conflicts should be resolved through negotiations, no one should be arrested for a mere copyright lawsuit. "I have subsequently cancelled my affiliations with her, so I believe that any documents that I have signed in the process to be null and void," he said in the video.
On being contacted by The Daily Star, the lawyer in question claimed that Monir did not receive her calls for the past few days. "He had already handed me the power of attorney to act on his behalf," said Wolora Afrin, who went on to insinuate that Qinetic Network does not have the proper license to operate in the country. "All I want is these companies to go through proper channels, so that artistes get their due royalties," she insisted.
The attorney was also accused of digital forgery, having changed the names of two songs written by Monir – one of which is the very famous Shurjodoyee Tumi, and illegally licensing them with online distributor CD Baby under the name "Chottogram Railpoth". "We got to know about this when the actual content owner, E B Solutions (Bangladhol), received a copyright claim on their channel," said Sharaf Nafees Nazar. "We found out that it was licensed under a different name, and the records state that it was under Moniruzaman Monir and LCSCF, which is Wolora's organisation. This is absolutely illegal, and hinges on digital forgery". Evidently, access from the Bangladesh region was blocked, so that the duplicates could not be found.
After the press conference, more people have come up with allegations against the Wolora Afrin. Masuma Maimur, advisor at Sheba Prokashoni, claims that her publication house has been harassed multiple times, often on baseless conjecture. "She convinced Syed Abdul Hakim to file a lawsuit against us, which we will definitely challenge soon."
Television and media personality Dr Abdun Noor Tushar attributes these actions to the difficulty and archaic nature of copyright laws themselves. "People like this prey on the lack of legal knowledge, especially when obtaining copyrights is a complicated and arduous process. When I was working for Nagorik Television, she tried to threaten us to make an ambiguous deal with her, claiming that she will obtain copyright for each property and get royalties for all the artistes. She was leveraging off the fact that she handles monetization and royalty for a reputed television channel," he said. "However, I had overseen the proper copyright processes for our productions, since we were still a new television channel. When I asked her for proof that she had the proper channels to do as she claimed, she never got back to us."
"We will definitely take legal action against her," said Zooel Morshed, musician and Client Service Director at Qinetic Network. "There is a much bigger conspiracy to create havoc amidst the artiste community, and we will not stand for it," he said, mentioning that they had sufficient evidence against her.
Despite all the negativity, the film and musical fraternity uniting for sensitive issues as such can be seen as the right step in the direction of transparency and simplification of copyright laws, so that third parties are unable to exploit artistes into making uninformed legal moves.