Copycat, copycat, what have you seen?

20 Aug,2020

 

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

Four incidents over the last 15 days have ‘inspired’ me to write this piece.

 

First, a much-circulated article written by a former Indian corporate head honcho about a bridge over the Choluteca river in Honduras.

 

Second, the launch of the new Mahindra Thar.

 

Third, an advertising agency called Hakuhodo being taken to court by an event agency called Gravity Entertainment.

 

Fourth, a court ruling in Mannheim going against Mercedes-Benz on use of mobile technology from Nokia in its new cars.

 

In each of the above instances, people and organisations were divinely “inspired” to create from ideas that came from elsewhere. They were either copied from somewhere else or simply refused to acknowledge and compensate the creator / ideator.

 

Plagiarism is one socio-creative evil that most of us accept but refuse to act upon. Therefore, the bold act of taking an agency to court for creative cut-copy-paste is surely a welcome one, especially as the Hakuhodo-Gravity relationship would be like a Goliath-David one.

 

As a society, we seem to be pretty immune to rampant plagiarism. It’s built into our psyche, starting with the education system wherein we wrote projects happily lifting paragraphs from here and there, as long as the key points were covered for that was all our teachers looked for. As research students, we evolved into hunting out obscure journals and papers to lift from. There are rumours of a venerable ex-President of India who was charged with claiming a junior’s thesis as his own, with the Vice Chancellor of the university adequately hushing up matters! The typical reaction to plagiarism is to either hush up matters or simply look away.

 

Nobody denies the musical genius of R D Burman, but when he does not even acknowledge his source of “inspiration” for a composition, it is disrespectful of the world of creativity and your own craft. As an example, most viewers would have never heard of Emerson Lake & Palmer but there was no harm giving them the credit for the background musical track for the Hindi film ‘Parinda’. The attitude is, “nobody knows, so nobody cares”. And as nobody objects, the malaise grows bigger and more brazen. Just as Steven Spielberg should have credited Satyajit Ray for the inspiration for ‘ET’!

 

Mahindra is a hugely respected brand, yet I fail to understand why it has to copy the Jeep time and time again. It already got a rap on its knuckles with the Roxor in the US market, yet again the new Thar looks so similar to the Jeep Wrangler!

 

In my own professional life, I have come across innumerable instances where either the client wanted to own and lift ideas from advertising ‘pitch’ presentations, or an agency brazenly lifted concepts off the famous ‘Black Book’ and presented them as its own.

 

There are three key reasons behind this absolute apathy towards plagiarism.

 

1. Ideas are supposed to come free– while our cultural heritage takes pride in “gyan”, yet as a corporate client we expect domain knowledge, expertise and ideas to come free in a project. How many times have we asked external agencies for “good ideas” without paying them? Or how many times have we asked them to submit ‘detailed project proposals’? We almost imply that giving ideas for free is critical to getting a project. It is as if the brain is an appendix. Yet in the US or Europe we readily cough up fees by the hour as the law of the land demands so!

 

2. Whoever executes, owns– the end is more important than the means in most instances. We gloss over the critical aspect of where and how the idea germinated. The final output knows no source and thus no need to give credit. It is just a recent phenomenon that some film makers have given credit to the original story, especially if it is sourced from overseas. Seeing William Shakespeare wink during the credits of Gulzar’s “Angoor” is still a gold standard to me in a fitting tribute in mainstream communication.

 

3. The legal system is lax– this is the loophole most make merry of. The laws are there in place, but judicial slackness combined by diffidence of the affected to file cases have created no deterrence to plagiarism. And the affected might even be a brand as large as Zoom which does not wish to take Jio to the court for drawing ample inspiration for their meeting app, for fear of meddling with a local biggie. It will take a couple of landmark judgments against both blatant and veiled plagiarism to open the can of worms.

 

The perpetrator and perpetrated are both at fault for allowing such a culture for so long and not breaking this chain. In today’s digital age and with social media, it is easy to both trace instances or plagiarism as well as amplify them, as happened in the case of the article on the bridge in Honduras. The original writer himself said, “Excuse me…”.

 

It does not cost to acknowledge and announce the creative source candidly. The announcer’s creative prowess does not diminish but in fact get strengthened as you will then build a unique fraternity of creative partners who would want to work with you and create bigger and better.

 

As the philosopher John Stuart Mill had said, “Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of.”

 

Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior brand and marketing strategist. He writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. His views here are personal. He can be reached via Twitter at @Byapok

 

 

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