When inspiration and plagiarism cross

Is our heritage of culture and knowledge all based on original ideas? There have been countless plays written around scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Kalidasa, Premchand, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhya and innumerable others. These people or works of art have themselves been inspired by the litreature and culture in their times.

Isn’t that what heritage is all about? You build upon your history and create the present and the foundations of the future? Or does every creative author, script writer sit down and think about ways to make whatever they write totally original? Of course, it brings to mind questions as to what is original?

Is the concept of boy-meets-girl original? “Of course not”, you say. “That is the fundamental reason behind the origin of the species”.

Then what about rich-boy-meets-poor-girl? Ok, yes .. now we are getting somewhere. Many films use this theme.

What about rich-boy-meets-poor-girl-but-doesnt-notice-her-at-first-and-only notices-in-second-half-of-movie? Ok, fewer movies.

I am getting carried away.

My point is that when the very fabric of human society is about building upon past work and going ahead, why is it that people everywhere are screaming about Intellectual Property rights, plagiarisms, copyright, patents, etc.? Yes, I agree that blatant rip-offs are really a PIA. But why take it to the other extreme?

Think of what might happen if the movie industry got some legislation in place similar to software patents. In this, suppose every movie maker patents the original idea he used in the movie. And no future movie maker can use the same idea without paying a licence fee to the patent holder. How many movies would you see being created in a year then? My guess is - 0.

Why is it different for the software industry then? Probably just because the principal entities involved are a bit removed from the common man?

Software patents is a noose tightening around the necks of every body in the software industry. Every new patent granted, tightens the noose further. Soon we will choke, and then somebody will have to find a way to cut the rope. If you are a software developer, and you are unaware of this issues, remember that on a daily basis you are already violating scores of software patents in your work. Check out this site (http://webshop.ffii.org/) to see how.

I got inspired to write this rant after reading this excellent article in the New Yorker by the writer Malcolm Gladwell about how his work was “plagiarised” by a broadway play writer without any attribution. The article explains how he initially went through the pangs of outrage, and how he almost sued the other, before settilng down calmly and thinking over whether this was necessarily a bad thing. Malcolm eventually forgave the other, in a way. The two actually met at the end with the play writer bringing him flowers, apologizing and explaining why she did that. A fascinating read.

Found the link to the article at this entry in Anil Dash’s blog.

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