Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Are Indians Prone To Plagiarism?

Plagiarism has been rampant in India and the world over. Looking backward, when American pop art first appeared some critics accused the artists of plagiarism. The Greeks too at one point in time were inspired by Indian music.

Plagiarism is the appropriation and passing off as one’s own, the work/idea of others. It is not necessarily same as copyright infringement. It is generally considered reprehensible and even theft. On the other hand, in 1988 a number of radical artists organized a ‘Festival of Plagiarism’ consisting of a series of mixed media exhibitions and events at off-beat locations in London and San Francisco. This was a celebration of plagiarism.

There are different forms of plagiarism. It happens all the time in academia where certain characteristic phrases are used in a paper without indicating the source. This is called “The Mosaic”.

In India, especially in schools, plagiarism is in a way encouraged when students are asked to memorize verbatim. Even at the board level an answer of the Navneet guide fetches better marks, when in actuality it should be seen as academic dishonesty and a serious punishable academic offence.

Intentional plagiarism, as in copying an entire research paper, is often blamed on stress or laziness. The Indian examples are many. Vice chancellor of Kumaon University Dr. B. S. Rajput is the latest in a series of Indians found to have literally reproduced research from another scientists’ work in a published article on theoretical physics. Kaavya Vishwanathan admitted to accidental plagiarism. Her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild And Got A Life is similar to Megan Mc Cafferty’s in style.

Plagiarism is widespread in Indian television too. The best selling author Barbara Taylor Bradford claimed that the TV serial Karishma: The Miracle Of Destiny was a copy of her novel, A Woman Of Substance. Even Karishma kaa Karishma is a copy of Small Wonder. Princess Diaries has been adapted into Hello Dolly.

Indian cinema has also not distanced itself from plagiarism. Crossover film maker Deepa Mehta’s movie Water bears similarities with Bengali novelist Sunil Gangopadhayay’s Sei Somoy. Mehta’s production was screened in Toronto International Film Festival this September, in spite of a suit being filed in the Delhi HC against its screening. Aap Mujuhe Ache Lagne Lage is inspired by Rapunzel.

Ad jingles are also inspired by old Hindi film songs or other sources. The Shalimar oil jingle is a word-to-word copy of the movie Shalimar’s title track.

Self plagiarism (the act of copying one’s published or submitted work without mentioning previous use), is constantly carried out by TV serial director Ekta Kapoor. Almost all her serials have similar scripts.

Plagiarism is also prevalent in the world of Indian music. Himesh Reshammiya too is prone to self plagiarism; all his songs have a similar tune. Also, R. D. Burman’s Chura Liya Hai from Yaadien is a good adaptation of Walter Scharf’s If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium. Telgu song Monisha is a copy of Ricky Martin’s Maria.

It seems then that Indians are inclined towards plagiarism. Plagiarism is celebrated as being anti-capitalist in its stance because it seemingly avoids elitism, assuming that everything belongs to everybody! Despite this, the illegal copying of designs, bootleg recording and industrial espionage are in fact typical of much rapacious capitalist business practice. Some fashion designers have been ruined because their new collections have been stolen and copied by criminal rivals.

Whether you write an article or compose a song it belongs to you. Plagiarism therefore is theft. But law and society in India don’t treat plagiarists as thieves. Plagiarism seems so deep rooted here that it is hard to find originality. One always ends up asking, where could Anu Malik have lifted this from? But the fact could be that he really slogged hard to come up with that tune!

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