Saibal C. Pal

Copying lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s Noble Prize winning book of poems, `Gitanjali’ without acknowledging the source and claiming it as one’s own is called plagiarism. A person caught for plagiarism is called a Plagiarist. The Copyright Act, 1957 which protects originality neither defines plagiarism nor a plagiarist. Knowledge age is racing ahead with innovations and creation. There is keen competition all around and one is aiming at outwitting the other. In over enthusiasm to excel, people resort to copying others’ work, publicize the same as their own.  To-day literature, art, dramatics, music, software programmes is plagued with copying. Accordingly, instances of plagiarism are common. Plagiarism violates copyright law. S 13 of the Copyright Act,1957 (`Act’) safeguards:

(a)    original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works;

(b)    cinematographic films; and

(c)     sound recording.

The Act plays a significant role in furthering creation. Under the Act, a plagiarist is charged with infringement and is punished if found guilty. All works to be registered must be original. UNESCO has declared 23rd April declared as the ‘World Book and Copyright Day’ which coincides with the birthday of William Shakespeare.

While creating works, authors are permitted to borrow ideas and take factual content from the existing works of other authors. When the author expresses facts and ideas in a new manner it is original work. In a work extracts may be included from others works but there must be acknowledgement in the work itself as a foot note. Stories of the new versions of the films, `Devdas’ and `Parineeta’, are considered original works. Titles were adopted from the works of the common man’s novelist of Bengal, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhya and the stories of the films were suited to the present social day scenario. Story credits of the two films were to different persons. No copyright is granted for titles to the works. Original work must be creative and of intellectual contribution. Supreme Court in the case, Eastern Book Company vs. D.B.Modak (2008) 1 SCC 1 decided that there cannot be claim of copyright once the work is in public domain.

One who copies another author’s work is commonly called a copycat. Detection of copying is difficult. Whether a particular work is a copy or not, courts consider the works in question to conclude on the originality. The ‘De Minimus Rule’ applies to copyright and it states that a few words even used in continuity would not be granted copyright.

Concerned over plagiarism in legal research, Bar Council of India has decided to develop anti-plagiarism software to detect copycats. In the field of medicine, plagiarism is also rampant. Dr Anthony Morgan, Chairman of the Council’s fitness panel of doctors in practice said, `plagiarism is unacceptable behavior.’ Academics face this problem every day. Students copy and submit these to unsuspecting professors. At the middle and secondary school level, internet sauvy kids use internet for preparation of their school project reports. Downloads from the net includes content in their reports without acknowledgement of the source. The website aids in detecting plagiarism. Instances of plagiarism in the entertainment industry is of much concern. One is out to copy from the other and at the end go to claim it as original to earn credit.

Nandula Raghuram, an activist of New Delhi is fighting to expose instances of copying in the field of science and a member of the Society for Scientific Values (SSV) New Delhi. SSV investigates and the number of investigations rose from 3 in 2005 to 11 in 2007.Physicist K.R.Rao, Associate Editor of the magazine, ‘Current Science’ published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, said that there were detections of plagiarism both, major and minor in articles submitted to the journal in recent years. In 2008, Prof. P.Chiranjeevi, Professor in Chemistry at Sri Venkateswara University was punished for copying from others research. In 2007 Mashelkar admitted to SSV that sections of a book on IPR of which he is a co-author reproduced material verbatim, from a paper published by a British Scholar without acknowledgment. Increase in misconduct in the field of science caused voices to be raised for an independent regulatory mechanism to deal with such cases. R.Chidambaram, ex-Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission told the US journal, `Science’ in January, 2008 that number of cases of scientific misconduct was still less to justify a full time oversight body. Others argue that volumes are not necessary to justify a policy mechanism. Activist Raghuram, reacted by saying that a low crime rate does not call for disbanding the police force. Several countries including US, have established mechanisms to investigate into infringement of copyright. Elsevier an international publishing body was creating a data base of 25 million papers published in more than 14,000 journals to help to track plagriasm. Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister, believed that India is harassed by major cases of plagiarism but people tend to go scot-free. Prof. Rao feels that some type of government mechanism is necessary to tackle the problem.

Many celebrated western musicians share the dubious distinction of having been involved in plagiarism controversies. Bollywood is threatened with plagiarism. Music composer Pritam has been singled out in several instances. Bloggers point out cases where newspapers have reproduced articles from various websites without acknowledgment. It is stated that greatest of the music composers of Bollywood have been found to have engaged in plagiarism for years. But such controversies are not unique to India only. Celebrated western musicians were caught in plagiarism controversies. George Harrison one of the four Beatles was charged with plagiarism in respect of release of the album, `My Sweet Lord’ which resembled `He is so Fine,’ by Cliffon. The US District held Harrison guilty by stating that he had copied the songs `sub-consciously’. The Court awarded damages in the case. (Bright Tunes Vs. Harrisongs).In charges of copyright, it is necessary to demonstrate that the defendant had access to the plaintiff’s work. Inability to prove such a fact led to the collapse of a case against the Bee Gees in the case Selle v. Gibb.

The legal litmus test has been the centre of many a law suit. The British case Balgent & Leigh vs. Random House on Dan Brown’s book, Da Vinci Code is an example. The authors of ‘Holy Blood Holy Grail’ claimed that Brown had plagiarized the ‘Central Theme’ of their book whether Christ had married Mary Magdalene. The court ruled that Brown had only borrowed a set of non-copyrightable ideas to create a new work and Dan Brown was acquitted. ‘Krazy 4’ the bollywood film was charged for including a song which was in public domain through the television channels. The producer went for an out of court settlement. Producers are presently the copyright holder of the music of a film. The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010 seeks to amend the Act to give this right to the composers.

Now, readers you know what Plagiarism is about. Will this article pass the plagiarism test? If yes, why and if not, reason for the same. I await your comments.


Edited by: Neha Doshi & Priti Chowdhary

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