Indonesia, Malaysia squabble over ‘Truly Asia’ Tourism Campaign song

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By Yusof Sulaiman
Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia get into open squabble over “origin and copyright” of a song of called “Rasa Sayang” (loving feelings), which is currently being used in Malaysia’s “Truly Asia” campaign.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (eTN) – It has not put both countries on a war-footing, but Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia are openly squabbling over the “rightful” owners of their shared heritage and cultures.

Indonesian Parliamentarian Hakam Naja has urged the Indonesian government to institute legal action against the Malaysian government for the “infringement of copyright and ownership” of the “Rasa Sayang” (loving feelings)” song, associated for generations with people of both countries and currently featured in Malaysia’s “Truly Asia” campaign.

Indonesia’s claim is based on the belief that the song originated from Maluku, one of its isles, where the song has been sung for generations by its occupants to express their love for the environment. “If it is proven the song belongs to Indonesia, we should sue the Malaysian government,” said Naja. “The Indonesian government should patent the song immediately.”

“If someone wants to use elements of Indonesian culture, the Indonesian government should be compensated, otherwise other countries will keep undermining us. The government should copyright or patent the nation’s heritage,” added Naja.

Claiming a lack of action by the Indonesian government over protection of its heritage, Naja has claimed further that Malaysia has been guilty in the past of claiming ownership of traditional Indonesian “batik” handicrafts and traditional hand-puppet show “wayang kulit.”

However, another parliamentarian, Priyo Santoso, said Indonesia needs to determine whether Malaysia is actually using the song without Indonesia’s permission.

“Taking legal action is unlikely to succeed if the author’s song is unknown,” Enteng Tanami, chairman of Indonesia’s Copyright Council commented on the matter. “Malaysia can use the song as their tourism theme song if nobody knows who wrote the song.”

Indonesia and Malaysia are not the only countries claiming ownership of the song, said Tanamai. Ambon in Maluku and Manda in North Sumatra have also been claiming ownership of the song for generations.

In an interview with reporters, Dr. Yusherman, an analyst on Indonesia-Malaysia relations, said the “allegation” is an attempt to seek cheap publicity, without knowledge of the area’s history and origin. “They are serving their own self-interest on an insignificant issue.”

Responding to Indonesia’s sudden and unexpected claims, Malaysian Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Rais Yatim said the issue is not only unrealistic, but should not have risen. Other songs popularly sung by peoples of both countries were inherited from their ancestors. “I think Indonesia or other parties will not be able to prove who was the composer of the song,” he said. “Indonesia clearly has no right to claim ownership over ‘wayang kulit’ as it was brought by the Hindu ruler Sri Vijaya to the Malay archipelago, and from there the art spread to Langkasuka, (Kedah state in Malaysia) Palembang, Batavia and Temasik (Singapore).”

Minister Rais added: “Based on these arguments I don’t think the Indonesian government is keen to sue us. Besides it will affect Malaysia-Indonesia bilateral relations.”

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