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WHY STEAL WHEN YOU CAN BORROW'

When the Supreme Court said earlier this month that it would not interfere with the Calcutta high court’s judgment rejecting the plea of the American novelist, Barbara Taylor Bradford, to restrain the telecast of the multi-crore TV serial, Karishma: A Miracle of Destiny, it was dead right because ideas, titles and facts cannot be copyrighted. Copyright in a literary work is restricted to language or the words used without the permission of the author or publisher. Adaptations are not copyright simply because there is no such thing as a writer who has escaped being influenced. If that was not the case, G.P. Sippy could not have produced Sholay, which was heavily adapted from John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, which in turn was based on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, that in turn was based on the lives of Japanese feudal warriors in the 12th century.

Although adaptations — call them plagiarizations if you like —will always be there, especially in academic works, there is an unwritten code among serious authors that crudely put says, “thus far and no further.” What are these limits that any respectable author should observe and how should he go about it'

It really boils down to a matter of conscience. Every writer knows within when he is lifting or stealing ideas from another’s works. There are virtually thousands of sources from where ideas could be taken and it is not easy for any scholar to track down the origins — it is for the author to acknowledge this in a footnote or more explicitly in the text itself. Alternatively, he should acknowledge his debt in the “Introduction” and mention the source in the bibliography. Sadly, these courtesies are often ignored and this is what leads the original authors to seek redress from the courts.

How much is involved for the author to write to his source for permission to adapt or reproduce words in support of his project' Virtually nothing at all: if the original author is alive, the whole transaction can be done in a day in these days of e-mail correspondence. Also, the money involved is not much because the original author knows that every writer uses his own imagination to mould the material in such a way as to make it his own. So, he agrees to whatever is offered as a kind of bonus. If the original author is deceased, it may be a little more bothersome to deal with the successors or assigns, but only a bit more.

If it is all that easy why don’t authors go about it in the professional way' For two reasons. First, many are innocent of copyright requirements and believe that everything under print is in public domain and therefore free to be taken. Second, even if they know the copyright law they believe they can “get away with it.” Most do but an intrepid investigator can always track it down.

So, what should the author do' The easiest and cleanest way is to take permission. But if that is too much, throw in some imagination and make it your very own. In the Karishma case, the saddest part of the story is that the producers could have added or deleted bits and pieces and made it their own sitcom. Bradford churns out formula books for down-market romantics. Couldn’t this have been done on their own' Any Mills and Boon could have provided the raw material if we didn’t have it in us!

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