‘Your Work Will Be Stolen, Do What You Want’: How I Encountered And Fought Plagiarism

Both clever and foolish instances of plagiarism have been in and around the literary world growing like cancer.

Now, a lot of people wish to express their thoughts in writing. Earlier, people stuck to writing in personal diaries and notebooks. But with the advent of technology, it has become easier and easier to reach out to an audience, however small.

So, very recently, my mom started writing in Bengali on her own blog. With only eight episodes in her kitty, the series titled “Tinni Kahini” is already quite well received amongst certain circles of Facebook groups. She even won an award for one of the episodes in one of the groups. My mom was happy and so was I.

Little did I know that horror awaited the very next day.

Before I move on to the next portion of the event, I must pull your attention to the fact that, thanks to digitisation, there are a number of small ‘media companies’, who work through websites, organise short story contests, etc.

Now, personally, I have always been wary of such contests. Firstly because, there is often hardly any credibility attached to these contests and their review procedures, secondly because their submission procedures are often extremely crude.

My mother had come across a Facebook page of Momspresso Bangla, a regional wing of Momspresso, a ‘media company’ situated somewhere in Uttar Pradesh. These people put up a 100-word contest, in every language, using a bouquet of flowers as the subject image and a particular idea of what to write.

They have a very interesting submission procedure. To submit, one merely has to write in the comments section. Once they do submit their creative work, many amateur Facebook users will discover that let alone edit their comment, they can’t even delete it, my mother being one such amateur user.

The horror my mother faced, however, was slightly different. As soon as she posted her own story in the comments section, she came across the very next comment wherein this contestant had posted her story. What shocked my mother was, this story started with the mention of Tinni and Shekhar being parties to a marriage.

Let me refresh your memory. Remember, earlier, I stated that my mom’s series is titled ‘Tinni Kahini’? Well, Tinni-Shekhar were the central characters of the story. These two characters are married.

I returned home that evening to find a very upset version of my mother, with horror in her eyes. She told me about the incident. I was furious. I approached the said lady, and put out the same angry message on my Facebook wall. I threatened her with a lawsuit and I also sent Momspresso Bangla a takedown notice of the particular comment in question, while also commenting on the said comment.

Amidst a whole lot of what can only be described as a dirty fight, I realised that law doesn’t sit well with these people. First of all, they are unaware of the fact that in India copyright registration is not required to contest copyright. Second of all, I literally failed to get them to understand that two central characters names being similar is not just a coincidence, that their characteristics are also similar is not just a coincidence.

Of course, this lady was quite clever. In her story, she did not get the central characters married. Instead, she presents a story where Tinni runs off before the marriage to pursue research. But then again, in my mother’s story, Tinni was an assistant to a researcher. Such uncanny coincidences, right? No, I live on planet earth and such coincidences are not the norm of reality.

Now, I am a lawyer. I can easily just challenge her with a lawsuit instead of engaging in the fight with her and her rag-tag band of overly dedicated friends who resorted to cheap mockery and challenged me to file the lawsuit. The website in question, Momspresso Bangla, gloriously gave ‘love’ reactions to the comments containing such mockery.

As morbid as this was, and despite the fact that my colleagues repeatedly asserted and re-asserted the illegality of the act, these people understood that in a court, this would at best be resolved as ‘delete your work’ with a very slight probability of nominal damages. Therefore, they resorted to mockery and went on to say that ‘your work will be stolen, do what you want to do, how many people will you catch and punish’.

One, at this point, might wonder as to why I am not sharing any screenshots of the alleged incident. Well, firstly because most conversations are in Bengali. And secondly, because the point of the article is to highlight the existing scenario more than the incident which I am merely hoping to use as an example of several such incidents taking place on a daily basis.

In the end, I realised that stopping plagiarism is not the law’s cup of tea. It is an ethic that should automatically rest with the people who aspire to become writers. The law can at best resolve disputes that result in financial losses of the original authors.

Our society as a large, even professional ones, are miles behind when it comes to the sensibility of such ethics. And as long as such lack of ethics remain in the smallest lanes of the literary world, nasty fights would be the only peace of mind.

Until today, I used to think that the law encompasses all. Today I realise that laws are often useless and until there is actual sensibility of why the laws are the way they are in the first place. Indians, in general, are still miles behind because of this lack of ethics and it is indeed a sad scenario. I want to take my country to higher grounds and I am left wondering if it would be possible in my lifetime.

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