Over the years, I have got used to receiving my own posts as WhatsApp forwards attributed to others
A few years ago, one of the country’s top law firms invited me to be part of a discussion on intellectual property rights. The other panellist was a former judge, a world-renowned expert on the subject. While she must have wondered why she was on a panel with a man known primarily for his views on Kangana Ranaut and oddly named underwear brands, in my defence, I’d been included as one of my novels dealt with the rampant IP theft by our film industry.
“For me, the attitude of my countrymen with regard to IPR,” I said, “is best exemplified by the morning walker, the guy who casually plucks flowers from the trees that grow in the homes along his path... so he can offer them piously to the gods in his puja room. Without permission from the flower grower. Or a hint of irony, for that matter. I’ve never been able to understand how he hopes to pull the wool over God’s all-seeing eye by offering her something totally unearned.”
A couple of weeks ago, a so-called independent journalist lifted — as is — several parts of a book review I’d written in this very newspaper. His contribution: altering a few of my words with inappropriate synonyms. It was published by a supposedly reputed journal. To this day, despite my protest on social media, and the support of writers and journalists, the piece remains online. Gloriously, shamelessly, as is. Not a word from either the ‘journalist’ or the journal. That’s the world we live in. The ‘independent journalist’ will continue to get work. From the same journal. And from others. He will no doubt thrive.
Not unlike a pathological serial plagiarist from the film industry who garnered himself a parliamentary seat recently. Or a ‘historian’, who lifted parts of an award-winning undergraduate thesis and articles written by two other scholars, currently doing a round of lit fests sporting what was originally known as the Nehru vest and a repellent wtf-can-you-do grin.
At the panel discussion, as I spluttered on about the impunity with which the average Indian co-opted copyright material, and how, coming from a family of poets and artists, having our intellectual property stolen, cut-and-pasted, misused, abused and profited from had become a frustrating rite of passage, my learned co-panellist made an interesting observation.
“You have to understand our culture a bit, Krishna,” she said, trying to calm me down. “For centuries, our artists, sculptors, composers and poets were used to not putting their ‘signature’ on their creations. When you go to the Louvre, you know which painting is by which artist. But when we go to, say, a temple here, do we know who the sculptor is? The artist here worked for king or god. And understanding the concept of copyright — a Western invention — is going to take time for us.”
While this clarified my need as an artist to stay somewhat detached in the vein of my forefathers with regard to ‘ownership’, it didn’t throw fresh light on why today’s average Indian thinks nothing of plagiarism.
As someone who posts something on social media on a daily basis, over the years, I have got used to receiving my own posts as WhatsApp forwards attributed to others. That’s the price you pay for making your posts public, said a friend. I’m pretty sure private posts are no less vulnerable. In India — from PhD theses to family photographs, from poster designs to entire movie plots, from architectural plans to ad jingles — everything is a flower growing on the hapless overhanging branch of someone else’s tree. Ripe for plucking, cutting, pasting, forwarding, claiming, selling and given as an offering at the feet of the ultimate god of all — oneself.
If we go by recent development indices, our glorious nation is pretty much at the bottom of most. I wonder if there is an index for intellectual property theft. Because if there is, we’d be Number One. (The truth is China is the topper here. They do it large scale at a corporate level. But I’m sure the average Indian beats the Gobi Manchurian out of the Chinese when it comes to daily, casual, copyright theft.)
Finally, an anecdote from our beloved film industry. About a decade ago, a well-known actor ugly-cried in public about how the movie they had made with much love, effort and money had been callously leaked online before its release. The film fraternity went en masse to the CM seeking justice for this heinous crime perpetrated on them. At the press conference, a superstar known for his philosophical finger-swishing delivered the ultimate punch dialogue to the TV reporters... without a hint of irony.
“You know, originally, I was supposed to do this movie. The director showed me a DVD of a Korean film and said we should ‘remake’ it...”
In essence, what our film fraternity was lamenting was that the material they had piously stolen for profit and glory had been dishonourably re-stolen by someone else to cut into their profit and glory. I wonder what the Korean filmmaker would have said had he been present.
I really don’t know what I’m going on about though. When the average Indian thinks he can fool the Omniscient One with pilfered flowers, in his eyes, who are we idiot mortals endeavouring to write, compose, paint and create original material?