Monday, February 6, 2012

Any room for Inspirational Plagiarism?

I think aloud as I listen to one of my favourite George Harrison/The Beatles numbers “My Sweet Lord” - I am reminded of the plagiarism suit that went along. Someone as great as Harrison was not excused, although he admitted that he never had “He’s so fine” on his mind, while composing My Sweet Lord. More about the row here.. My personal opinion, is that the judgment was a bit harsh.

And then, as much as a Bollywood loyalist that I am, I often wonder, can “inspiration” be really an excuse to copy music??? Although I hate to admit, the fact is that I often find myself listening to new songs, and I know that the riffs, chords, et al. are a pick up from some old song. The first one was as a very young child, listening to the inspirational version of “The Final Countdown” and the most recent one being last night - a Boney M rip off..

As I think of it, since copyright is apparently a pan-jurisdiction right, thanks to the Berne convention and non-requirement of registration, National Rights should be applicable to enforce such rights violated out of such “inspiration”.

Assuming a plausible situation, where an international artist came about to enforce rights against an act of “Inspiration” in India, “fair use” would be an obvious defence taken up in the issue. However, if we carefully look at the Act, S. 52 dealing on Fair use, titled “Certain acts not to be infringement of copyright”, covers Parody and not “inspiration”. That apart, whether rights have been violated to the extent of being “infringement”, is one meant to be decided on facts.

That having been said, it appears that irrespective of a case for infringement having been made out or not, would violation of moral rights stand a chance? I believe it would! Section 57 under the Copyright Act, 1957, reads:

“Author' s special rights. Independently of the author' s copyright, and even after the assignment either wholly or partially of the said copyright, the author of a work shall have the right to claim the authorship of the work as well as the right to restrain, or claim damages in respect of,-
(a) any distortion, mutilation or other modification of the said work; or
(b) any other action in relation to the said work which would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation…”

For a jurisdiction that in fact does give prominent weight to the violation of moral rights, I wonder why we haven’t had many cases in Music covering such “inspirational plagiarism” as I would like to call.

Though the idea-expression dichotomy would prevail as a premise, yet these cases should find a favourable verdict for copyright owners. Knowing the caliber and musical inclination that our judges have, in making line by line comparisons, the cases shouldn’t be a difficult slide.

On a funny note, a friend of mine and I discussed how one particular "original song" had been converted to a Devotional number, by replacing the lyrics. We discovered this on our school trip in Grade 4. And he asked "What would the Divine Gods do? Which Court would they approach?" I but of course had no answer, however this is definitely a point to consider!

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