Feb 1, 2011

Piracy, plagiarism and creativity in Bhutan

When we were in primary schools we were asked to write an original story in our class six common exam. That same essay type question used to be repeated every year. And to this day I have been wondering what the question setters had in their minds when they demanded an original story.  Is it an account of a real life incident or simply a folktale? And interestingly how can an evaluator judge if stories students wrote on their answer-sheets were original? But back then we scored better marks in English because we got used to such questions – we would memorize “original” stories from library books because at least for us such stories were “real” and “original”.

But today in the light of increased talks on copyright infringement and piracy issues, let’s ask whether we were morally correct to have done that. Our teachers never corrected us even if they knew it was wrong. And some even encouraged us. Where was room for creativity? We have been made to believe that it is alright to copy from others or reproduce word for word essays written by our English teachers. Legally speaking, if you copy or imitate others’ works, it entails a crime. It is as serious as someone trying to claim ownership of a house that you legally own or serious still someone trying to steal your spouse. But the joke aside, piracy kills creativity and hopefully with right laws in place, we may not have to put up in one big pirated and plagiarized world.

And today we live in the age of Internet/Bluetooth revolution that it is nearly impossible to control what comes in and what goes out. But the duty falls on us to educate our general public what copyright is and what it means to infringe it. As the copyright holders and by the mere fact of being literate, we have the moral responsibility to inform and justify to our fellow citizens why copyright infringement is a punishable offense.

As long as people are at the receiving end, piracy will continue. Forgive me, but we are used to watching pirated movies from around the world and listen to pirated songs. But you will agree some of our movies are adapted from other popular movies as well. And we have shown that we sing well in others’ tunes. People buy pirated Dzongkha DVDs and CDs mostly because it does not affect them. We buy pirated Hindi or English movies freely because piracy does not concern us and they are less expensive compared to the originals. But we should know there are people out there, who are indirectly affected.

The way our children sing and perform on the stage during school concerts and celebrations speak volumes of our understanding of copyright issues. Well, it is time that we get serious about the issues and never tolerate such unethical work. The 78th Session of our National Assembly passed Copyright Act in 2001 and some public awareness campaigns were held. And how far our people are aware of the issues is for us to judge.   

However, we all know it is easier said than done. Some form of piracy will always prevail until we find out the real culprit and bring him to justice. But the question still remains – how are those involved in crime get original copies in the first place? Is it our complacency nature to be blamed? We all know that they are not shot on video/digital cameras in the cinema halls - that’s for sure – one can easily make out the difference- these are the original movies. Now owners themselves can never afford to be complacent and those involved in screening the movies get their share of blames. That’s why one of the important measures the copyright holders can do is to hold accountable those people involved in the screening and production process. And maybe it is producers to be blamed for leak – as an original copy goes further and further and out of their reach. In such scenario, can any amount of rules help us? Not really, but then we will be in position to at least stop it happening at a mass and commercial scale.

Maybe it’s time that we get serious about copyright issues because there are chances that all of us will become victims. Maybe it’s time that we raid some shops for pirated articles. Maybe it’s time that we arrest the perpetrators and fine them high. Maybe it’s time that we register our works so that we have legal evidence to sue the perpetrators. Maybe it’s time our enforcing agency implements the Copyright Act and takes some concrete actions to bring piracy under control. Maybe it’s time that we cultivate culture of creativity and say NO to this fast emerging copy-paste culture. Maybe it’s time that we teach our children it is NOT right to copy or imitate others.