Plagiarism, Copying And Idiots

Ivan McEwan’s ‘Atonement’ is under microscope now. This book has received rave reviews and McEwan is a very accomplished writer. So, what’s the controversy now ? Apparently, an entire chapter is a copy from one of Lucilla Andrews’ books. That chapter mainly talks about a nurse during World War II. I have not read both the books and don’t intend to.

Here is an example from both the books. I came across this on the web. 

Andrews’ book says ”Our ‘nursing’ seldom involved more than dabbing gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on cuts and scratches, lead lotion on bruises and sprains,” 

And, McEwan’s equivalent is “In the way of medical treatments, she had already dabbed gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on a cut, and painted lead lotion on a bruise. But mostly she was a maid,” 

We know that copyright laws are very complicated. To prove that it’s a copy, they go through the words that have been used, context, and so much more. It is indeed quite hard to prove plagiarism.  

We have to note that in this case, McEwan has acknowledged in his book that Lucilla Andrews’ work gave him a lot of information about nursing during WW II. Plus, he is a very prolific writer. The scandal involves only one chapter in the entire book. Of course, that chapter is quite long, with around 30,000 words in it. 

Apparently all the British writers have stood by McEwan. Even the lawyers seem to think that this is not a valid case. It is believed that Lucilla Andrews was planning to talk about the issue publicly before she died. But she never did and we will never know what she had to say. 

Since I have not read either of the books, I will not take a stand here. This is just an example. Haven’t we heard tons of other stories like this. Coming to Kannada, how about Dr. UR Ananthamurthy and his ‘bhAratIpura’ ? And, how much haven’t we heard about Aryamba Pattabhi taking it out of her sister Triveni’s books. Are they all real or are they figments of imagination ? In most of the cases, we will never know (Kavya Viswanathans are not that common in this world). 

Another point to note. Why does this affect writers so much and not the musicians ?  Do we somehow consider writers to be ‘superior’ ? How come musicians are so immune to such controversies ? 

Let me take an example here. How about the good old ‘rArAvENu’ in Raaga ‘bilahari’.  Here is the notation for one of the stanzas: 

P A A A M G R G D A A A M G R G

P A A A M G R G P A P A P A A A 

Now, let me change that to: 

P M A A A G R G D M A A A G R G

P M A A A G R G P A P A P A A A 

If I sing the whole song as is, with only the above changes, will that become my composition ? How stupid is that ? If I am musically challenged, I won’t even notice the difference. 

Such tricks to get past the law is quite common in Indian light music and film music. Let’s not even get to ‘Final Countdown’ and ‘Oye Oye’, we have tons of examples of copying within India. I grew up listening to Rajan Nagendra’s melodious ‘kanasalU nIne manasalU nIne’. After 16 years, it suddenly becomes a Nadeem-Shravan original with ‘aisi deewAngI’. Similarly ‘eMdeMdu’ becomes ‘bin tErE’. There are so many other examples. Ilayaraja’s ‘O priyA priyA’ becomes an Anand-Milind creation in Hindi and AR Rehman’s ‘oTTagaTTi kaTTikkO’ becomes an Anu Malik hit with ‘rUp suhAnA lagtA hai’. 

What about ethics and conscience ? Those words don’t mean anything nowadays, huh ? 

This problem is not limited to just literature and music. Don’t we have the biggest example of all, the guy who claims that so much research went into his ‘original’ called ‘Black’. Yeah right. It’s a word to word rip off from ‘The Miracle Worker’. I have seen both. Does Sanjay Leela Bhansali really think that all of us are idiots ?

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20 Comments on “Plagiarism, Copying And Idiots”


  1. DS,
    I didn’t read the post completely, just skimmed through it. About the music tunes, I guess they would be giving some royalty & buy the rights. Thats what I understood when our Kichcha sudeep wanted t reshoot the movie Autograph & he has said that in many interviews. I am not too sure whether everybody does it or they claim it to be there creation!!!
    I heard lot of such stories, people said Swadesh was made out of Shivaram Karanth’s Chigurida kanasu & Nagabharana’s Naagamandala(its originally a play by Girish KarnaD) by people like Amol palekar who did that movie Paheli.
    We should not blame only the people from hindi.. The recent movie Aishwarya by our own Lankesh’s son Indrajit sounded like some shots & the base story was picked up by Ghajni(I haven’t watched both).. & his movie TunTaata is like Kuch Kuch hota hain(I have seen both the movies).. These are just examples to quote ashTe.

    All said & done.. we are proud of Arundathi Roy & the recent ‘I forgot her name who bagged the booker’s prize this year’ for the awards they get more than their books being listed as best sellers…….
    I always wished.. Can’t they do all that being a citizen of India ? I always thought the same when Dr Amartya sen.. was listed for Nobel prize.(http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1998/sen-autobio.html)


  2. If you were in India, I would has asked to watch the movie Raaga Ranjani.. it clearly says how people hear the same tune when we use the notes of the same raaga. I really enjoy this show though its just for 30 minutes.! I need not say lot to you on Music.. pls pardon me.

  3. Srik Says:

    Its an interesting post and I have nothing to comment as Im no expert in either music or in literature, but one thing is for sure.

    Any genuinely good thing to someone will be a good thing to other person, irrespective of the geographic or cultural differences, as Basavanna says “Alli salluvavaru illiyoo salluvaru”. And in that context, one song enjoyed by Kannadigas, must also reach out other people, and the converse is also true. It must not stay as a property of one set of people, everyone must enjoy it. Same stand I have in the debate where people from Indipop re-mix some beats to old melodies. Every set of people must be allowed to enjoy, but as far as that re-making person claiming it as his original thing, I hate such person.

  4. mouna Says:

    i don’t know much about music, nor kannada literature(i discovered it recently), but yes, plagiarism rules! i wonder how people can ever do such a thing, it’s scandalous!

    people who have composed a sound-track etc, should get some rights. science articles fare much better in this regard, when articles are published under a partcular name (the analogy may sound silly, but the point is made).

  5. decemberstud Says:

    @ Veena :
    I don’t think any royalties will make a difference when it comes to changing the name of the music director itself. That’s just wrong. You can pay money and reuse the song in a different language, but you should still put the name of the original music director. And no, I did not say that the problem is only in Hindi. I just took the examples which I knew. I am sure there are tons of exampels in other languages as well. And the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize is Kiran Desai.

    @ Srik :
    I totally agree that reusing and remaking is perfectly fine. Remember how Hemanth Kumar used to reuse his Bengali tunes in Hindi. But, as you have rightly pointed out, copying the original and claiming as his/her own is really bad. And, that exactly is my point.

    @ Mouna :
    Totally…..your point is taken. Unfortunately, a lot of people lack conscience and that is a major factor.


  6. @DS

    I’m not quite sure where I stand on this. Plagiarism is completely wrong and utter nonsense. But I am not quite sure where we can draw the line as you say. It pains me to see RD Burman hits being rewrapped and marketed again and again by the idiots that don’t have the slightest idea of what music is. RD (or his foundation) is not even receiving any royalties for it. That pains me. That hurts me. Yes, Nadeem/Shravan and Anand-Milind and Anu Malik all plagiarise. But what do you say when Scorsese takes the idea of “Infernal affairs” and adapts it to make “The Departed”? I have read that a lot of movies are adaptation or plain copies of South Korean films – supposedly the most creative movie industry there is. Is that plagiarism? What is inspiration and what is plagiarism? Who makes that decision. I guess you can call it plagiarism when you adapt a story line and create something new without any reference to the original creator. But if that is done, do you still call it plagiarism?

    About SLB: He is one of my favorite directors. One of the very few who makes movies with his heart.You have mentioned that he says its original – I haven’t been able to find such a quote attributed to him. I read a couple of articles which said the first half is “quite similar” to Miracle Worker, but thats about it. Then again you’ve watched it and I plan to watch it in the next couple of weeks.

    This post will lead to another post – about “Intellectual rights” and more specifically the whole business of “Patenting” – something I feel very strongly about. Patenting when it comes to drugs makes me sick. Sorry for going off topic.

  7. rk Says:

    ds,
    terrific post.
    wrt the ‘old’ original and ‘new’ original songs, few more to the list:
    INSPIRED —– ORIGINAL
    sadaa kannali —- nawazish karam (mehdi hassan)
    gelathi baaradu intha samaya —- dil mein ik lehar si uthi hai abhi
    ennio morricone’s tune —- banna nanna olavina banna
    jab koi baat bigad jaaye —- five hundred miles (Peter, Paul, & Mary)
    tirchi topiwaale —- the rhythm is gonna get you (Miami Sound Machine)
    aate jaate —- i just called to say i love you
    dil mera churaaya kyoon —- last christmas (Wham)
    (the funniest thing is that in the movie, Aamir Khan’s character sells this tune to another musician, and everyone makes a big deal about “stealing” credit for another’s work.)
    yunhi kat jaayega —- lovely lady of arcadia (Demis Roussos)
    o mere sapnon ka —- bachelor boy (Cliff Richard)
    tumse milke —- when i need you (Leo Sayer)

    and many more……


  8. Great List RK..
    DS, monne kelvu MP3 CD’s togonde mejastic area nalli & I was hunting for the original ones.. Anand Audio navare recording antha print haakidru aadre haado jana maatra PB Srinivas badlu J.V. Atri etc., I don’t know whether this falls under the plagarism category…but I appreciated the fact that they put a disclaimer like ‘Not from original track’.
    I also got a CD called Sadaabahaar sung by Lata & Kishore… Wow! What a wonderful songs gotta.. it starts with gaata rahe mera dil.. obviously I paied 55 bugs for the first Mp3 CD & 199 for he later. kaasige takka khajjaaya alve ?

    Thanks for the replies. They were quite good(not much of disagreement :-).. Houdu Kiran Desai.. avaru monne monne VT nalli appear aagidru avara ammana jothe…

  9. decemberstud Says:

    @ OI :
    Very true, it is hard to distinguish between plagiarism and inspiration. It’s an EXTREMELY thin line. No number of attorneys can ever solve the problem. It’s more an issue of ethics. People with good conscience will not copy, period. At the end of the day, this will never be solved, unfortunately. Because new idiots are born everyday.

    Sure, S.Korean movies are good. On that note, Japanese movie industry is very creative as well. And, I have seen some really good Iranian movies. Russian movies are OK.

    As for SLB, I thought he was a good director when I watched ‘Khamoshi’, even though I didn’t like the movie very much (Salman Khan dragged it down completely). My respect for him as a director started going down with ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ and I thought ‘Devdas’ was atrocious. And, my respect for him (not just as a director) totally went down the drain after reading several of his interviews on ‘Black’. He thrives on publicity and stunt. That’s what happened when he made a story about his parents and called it ‘Devdas’ (at least that’s what he said in the interviews) and the guy couldn’t even come up with a new word to teach the dumb kid in ‘Black’. He HAD to start with ‘W_A_T_E_R”, huh ? How original !!! I had read TONS of interviews from him and his associates about the ‘originality’ of the movie. If you have googled enough and haven’t found it, then I assume they are all gone. He is an out and out capitalist and I fell to strongly against his ideas and principles.

    @ RK :
    Thanks !!! And, a very good list there. I ddin’t know a few of them, so that must be a good list 😉 Thanks for sharing.

    @ Veena :
    Very nice. Infact, I went and bought a George Michael double CD the other day and some of my friends thought I was stupid when my reasoning for buying the CD was “I want to encourage the artistes”. Well, “avaravara bhAvakke….”


  10. @ DS

    Again a bit off topic, but what do you think of people like me and plenty others who’d rather download songs than pay exhorbitant sums to buy a new CD. That latest songs that I’ve downloaded are from Mani Ratnam’s Guru – and Rahman rocks! Are we doing justice? I comfort myself sometimes with ridiculous arguments like “they’re earning way too much anyways” and all that BS. Having said that, I do go and buy the original versions of stuff I like and feel that needs to be supported – Black is one of them and Guru CD will be too.

  11. decemberstud Says:

    @ OI :
    Downloading music is different. Not that I do, like you. But, this is more like speeding on the freeway. Even that’s wrong, but it’s ‘different’ wrong. You get checked and you get punished if caught. Sure, they are all wrong and everyone should try and avod them. But, plagiarism and copying are way above these minor sins. Still, they all need to be punsihed. So, in my law book, I would probably fine you certain dollars, for doing what you do 🙂

    Yes AR Rehman rocks, But, my complaint about him is that he is too predictable. He has some brilliant songs, no doubt, but unlike SD (and even RD to a large extent), he does not come up with new stuff regularly. The Madan Mohans and Vasant Desais and Ilayarajas and Hemanth Kumars and Vijay Bhaskars are all great. I am sure AR will definitely join that elague some day, there is absolutely no doubt about it. The problem is, he is composing way more songs than the others did and I guess, that, to a certain degree has hampered his creativity. I still think ‘Roja’ is his best. Another Tamil movie called ‘Pudiya Mugam’ had his second best. And, undoubtedly ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’ is the worst he has ever come up with. Of course, all strictly my opinions.

    I ahve no intention of changing your opinions about SLB or ‘Black’. But, I really do feel extremely strongly about that particular individual. He is completely taken everyone for a big ride and it hurts me to see him ‘using’ the audience. I just cannot support his actions.

    An awesome link….I fell down the chair laughing….


  12. @ DS

    Sure, serve me a ticket and I’ll comply 🙂

    Sorry to keep this going even though it is off topic.. but AR Rahman is predictable? You are the first person I am hearing this from.

    Roja – undoubtedly his best work – no room for argument there. But after that look at Bombay – though not on the same scale – Kehna hi Kya and Tu hi re were really good – although kinda similar to the Roja feel.

    Dilse – was quite different.

    The movie that he won me over with completely has to be LAGAAN. I mean this is a southie guy. He isn’t supposed to know anything about Rajasthani/Gujarati sorta folk music but the score for that movie, in keeping with the location and storyline was so awesome.

    Taal – was pretty good and different as well.

    Rangeela – nothing like Roja or Bombay.. completely bambaiyya, so to speak.

    As great as I think he is, he is still not close to SD or RD, I agree. But he might get there as you say. And I think he has consciously decided to cut down on the number of movies he does. Illayaraja is a league of his own, just like SD and RD.

    Yr point on SLB is completely understood and can’t wait to get my hands on Miracle Worker. 🙂


  13. I am glad that you said you will charge OI for downloading the music for free.
    I wonder how did the MP3 wave made such a big hit though being kind of illegal. Any thoughts ? Its not a plagarism but a piracy.. which is again not okay.
    About they earning money anyways .. We need to question that ourselves first.
    My GURU used to tell us how much effort goes in recording a song/music & how the artists strive for the success & we should understand & appreciate that effort & buy CD’s than copying it.. Its like the same way of borrowing the newspaper from the fellow passenger in the bus.. I kind of dislike that too… 🙂
    There is always a different pleasure owning something than borrowing.. ! Hope you agree to this.. 🙂


  14. @ Veena

    Yes, I know I am wrong and still do it. And as I said, my arguments are ridiculous, if self-satisfying. Just goes to prove that DS was so wrong in trying to label me a “saint” – right?

  15. decemberstud Says:

    @ OI :
    Maybe I am the first person you know who is muscially sensitive ? 😉 Jokes apart, AR Rehman is very predictable. It is very easy to listen to a song and say that it is AR creation. No two doubts about it.

    ‘Predicatble’ does nto eman ‘Exactly the same’, but it sure means a lot fo songs are similar. The tunes do NOT have to be of the same scale. ‘Roja’, ‘Pudiya Mugam’ and ‘Bombay’ were so similar that any child could say that it was composed by the same director.

    ‘Lagaan’ was different and very nice. But, the interludes had such a stron AR rehman feel to it. From your list above ‘Dil Se’ and ‘Taal’ were both very nice (especially the former), but nothing different. Pick a guy who has neevr listened to Rehman music, play the ‘Roja’ and ‘Laggan’ tunes and tell them who the music director is. Then play several non-Rehman CD’s and put in ‘Dil Se’ in the middle. I bet he can say that the muisic director for this one is Rehman as well. Sure, ‘Rangeela’ was very different.

    Yes, Ilayaraja, SD and RD are in their own league. But, I have no doubt that Rehman will be joining them in a few years. He is that good.

    And, coming to ‘saints’, remember they are NOT Gods. So, even they have flaws 😉

    @ Veena :
    I completley agree with you. We are nobody o question the efforts involved in creating art (be it music, painting, movie or whatever). The artistes spend so much time and energy creating it and they deserve all the benefits. But, I am guessing OI was mentioning more about the ‘producers’ than the artistes, but even then the reasoning is flawed, as he himself readily agrees.


  16. @ DS

    Agreed with everything you’ve said and yes, maybe you are the first “musically sensitive” person I’ve met. 🙂 The only point where I might raise an objection is Lagaan. But lets leave that alone… I seem to have completely hijacked your post. Sorry about that.

    You never let go of something once you get hold of it , do you? Saint with me and “Saaaar” with Vijay. I’ll keep using the words which will ensure, I am not labelled one. BTW, I just got off the phone with my cousin and she is getting better at Gujju 🙂 I love that.


  17. OI.. I dislike lot of things about you.. Another reason to dislike you is this one.. People who know what they are doing is wrong & still do it are so disgusting…
    DS.. There are saints like Dr. Shivakumar swamy, paramahamsa.. of course yes.. that doesn’t completely beat your clause of saint not having flaws.
    OI.. might not know the karnataka way of using terms.. when we say ‘Gandhi’ it means lot..! when we say ‘saint’.. it can mean a lot too 🙂
    Happy weekending guys.. Have the New year bash started… kannada people must be gathering in some auditorium to wish each other, I am just waiting to see another write up on TK..


  18. @ Veena

    Thanks for your frank and forthright observations. About your observations, I’ll quote something from you, yourself:

    DS, Stop taking names & concluding about whats right & who suits what.. This is something no necessary I feel.. Again.. choice is yours..!

    If you really believe in the above, selective application is not right as well. Carry on though, I don’t mind at all.

    About your “Karnataka way” – I’d rather not comment – seems childish to me.

  19. nilagriva Says:

    I know my comment is a half year late, but anyhoo..

    Has anybody read “Atonement” here? Or any of Ian McEwan’s works? Please go read them. He is a wonderful author.

    And about the plagiarism charges leveled against him, Ian McEwan had already acknowledged this in his book and a radio show. So it is just borrowing and definitely not plagiarizing a la Kaavya.

    When the author from whom McEwan purportedly “plagiarized” had no problem, what is up with the media raking up this issue? Just because Kiera Knightley played a role in the novel’s movie adaptation?


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