Hollywood in India: Protecting Intellectual Property

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Hollywood in India: Protecting Intellectual Property (Cases A and B)
Case Analysis
13020014
 

Plagiarism is using someone else’s work without giving the original author significant credit for it. It is considered theft of ideas because if a person is using another person’s previously recognized work in any way, he should properly acknowledge the original authorship of the material. It is a serious offense whether it is done in academics, art, movie making or software development. As far as academic and scientific writings are concerned, these days, softwares are available for plagiarism detection. However, when it comes to movies, images and softwares it is exceedingly hard to draw a line between plagiarized and original work.

Identification of Plagiarism

Plagiarism can occur in images, text, movies and, even, softwares. Due to advancement in technology, ample softwares are available online to detect plagiarism of written content. However, there is a limit to the usefulness of such softwares because, even though they can detect the exact copy of the original work, they cannot identify plagiarism if the material from the original work is paraphrased or if only the basic idea of the original work is used. Thus, it entirely depends on the memory of the people viewing the report to recognize plagiarism. Same is true for images, text and softwares. A shrewd plagiarizer has numerous tools at his disposal to replicate someone else’s work (or idea) in a way that his work appears to be original. In images, watermarks are used to prevent such plagiarism; nevertheless, the concept can still be duplicated. It is also possible to duplicate softwares, if the basic functioning and idea of the software is understood. Additionally, even if plagiarism, in any of these mediums, is identified, it is difficult to prove whether plagiarism was deliberate or accidental.

 

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Particularly for movies, it is difficult to decipher whether the movie is plagiarized version of another movie or just “inspired” by another movie. In movies, anything from the story to the scenes can be borrowed from previously released movies. The movie makers can use the entire original idea(s) as it is or modify it according to the requirement of their movie. The most obvious form of plagiarism in movies is the story. If two movies are based on the same story, regardless of the language or cultural setting, and the author of the original story is not accredited, the movie released later has been plagiarized from the former. This kind of plagiarism is fairly common in Bollywood movies. These movies are often based completely  or partially on stories of Hollywood movies adapted to the Indian cultural environment.  The scenes of one movie can also be copied from another movie. As mentioned earlier, any content, material or technique used in earlier movies can be used in the new movies. It is exceedingly difficult to identify plagiarized work unless the similarities between two movies are glaringly obvious. The amount of skilful improvisation and modifications made to the copied content depends on the skill and intent of the plagiarizer. Thus, it makes identification of plagiarism a  daunting challenge but not impossible.

Plagiarism of Hollywood Movies by Bollywood

Bollywood Indian film industry is the largest film industry in the world in terms of the number of movies produced, the people employed and the sale of movie tickets. Hollywood, US based film industry is, however, the largest in terms of gross box office collections (Lakhsmi, 2011). From the past two decades, Bollywood movies have shown strong resemblance to previously released Hollywood movies in terms of the storyline. For instance, Bollywood movies Sarkar, Kaante and kyo kii.. mein jhuth nahin bolta are said to be strongly “inspired” by Hollywood productions The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs and Liar Liar (Desai, 2005). There are several other movies which can be claimed to be the Indian version of the Hollywood movies. The reason for this increasing plagiarism is the weak copyrights law enforcement in India.  In most of the movies, plagiarism is exceedingly obvious, for example, Indian movie “Partner” can be called an Indian replica of Hollywood movie Hitch. On the other hand, there also exist other movies which have so many differences that determining plagiarism is difficult. A perfect example of such a movie is the Bollywood’s movie, My Name is Khan. The leading character of My Name is Khan is “said” to be inspired from the leading character of Hollywood movie, the Forest Gump.

Hitch Vs Partner

Hitch is a Hollywood romantic comedy film directed by Andy Tennant, starring Will smith as Hitch, the date doctor. It’s the story of the man Alex "Hitch" Hitchens who coaches other men in the “art of wooing women”. In the movie, Albert Brennaman is one of his clients. Albert has a serious crush on his boss, Allegra Cole. Hitch helps Albert out in getting the girl he loves by guiding him in every step of the way. As Albert’s relationship with his boss progresses, Hitch falls for a gossip columnist, Sara Melas. Ironically though, Sara was determined to expose “date doctor” because one of his clients had a one-night stand with her best friend. However, Sara was unaware that Hitch had refused to work with that particular client. The situation becomes hilarious when Hitch’s methods of wooing women did not seem to work on Sara. Eventually though when both Hitch and Albert get their girls, Hitch is unmasked and both their relationships break up. Hitch then reunites Albert with Allegra and reconciles with Sara. Hitch and Albert were the main comedy characters of this movie. The movie made gross worldwide revenue of $368,100,420 (Boxofficemojo).

Partner, a Bollywood movie, was released in 2007. It is claimed to be the Indian adaptation of Hitch. Partner has the exact same storyline as Hitch. In both movies the story revolves around a man who helps other people with their dating problems. The role of the “dating coach” in both movies has been done by leading actors in the respective industries. Salman Khan, a leading Indian actor, plays the role of Prem, the “LoveGuru”[1] , in Partner. There were just two minor differences in the plot. Firstly, in Partner the gossip columnist (Naina) is a divorced single mother rather than a single women and Prem has to convince Naina as well as her son. The character Albert is called Bhaskar in Partner. He is in love with his boss, Priya. The second difference in plot occurs, when finally Priya and Bhaskar are in love, Priya’s father forcibly tries to get her to marry another guy. Both Bhaskar and Prem then crash Priya's wedding ceremony with Naina, and convince Priya's father. Apart from this the story is the same, eventually Naina exposes Prem and both relationships nearly break up. At the end, Prem comes to their rescue and the couples get back together. Partner was also remarkably successful in the industry and generated a gross worldwide revenue of up to 1,028,600,000 Indian Rupee (BoxofficeIndia).

Both movies, Hitch and Partner, are very much alike. They, even, have the same scenes played out when, under the guidance of the dating coach, his client tries to woo his boss. For instance, in one scene of Hitch, Albert tries to get his presence noticed by Allegra in a meeting. He does so by pointing out that Allegra should take her own decision and not rely on her financial advisors completely. This exact same scene was played in Partner with only the difference in language. After viewing both the movies it is exceedingly obvious to everyone that makers of Partner has undoubtedly plagiarized from Hitch.

In this example, plagiarism is fairly obvious and it is wrong because, even in different settings, the plot and the overall experience of the movie remains the same. It’s not just taking an idea from a movie and using it to make another movie. It’s more like making the exact replica of a movie. This must have, to a large extent, damaged the ability of Hitch to generate revenue in India.

On the other hand, just getting an idea from a movie and using it to create a entirely new plot for a new movie is not wrong. This is because, even when the idea is inspired by another movie, the movie produced is quite original. For instance, while the idea of My Name is Khan was inspired from the movie Forest Gump, both stories are utterly different.

My Name is Khan Vs Forest Gump

Forest Gump was released in America in 1994 and was based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom. Forrest Gump is a altruistic man with a low IQ. His only friend is an abused girl at school called Jenny. His mother teaches him everything and then dies, leaving him to choose his destiny. Forrest earns a football scholarship at the University of Alabama due to his ability to run. After graduation, he joins the army. In Vietnam, he becomes friends with a black man, Bubba. Bubba and Forrest decide to start a shrimping business after the war. Unfortunately, Bubba failed to survive the war. Forrest is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for rescuing men during the attack on his platoon. Forest was injured during this attack and, while recovering, he discovered his aptitude for ping pong. Soon after playing for the Army team, he gained popularity. Forrest, latter, endorses a ping-pong paddles company. He invests the money he earned from the ping pong business to buy a shrimping boat. He eventually becomes successful and ends up buying the entire fleet of shrimp boats. Forest then becomes famous by running across the country many times. Finally, near the end of the movie, Forest marries Jenny, his life-long love, after he discovers that she is suffering from a life-threatening virus. Jenny dies soon afterwards, leaving behind a son. In the movie, Forest wins medals, manages a successful shrimp fishing business, becomes a ping-pong celebrity and, in the process, meets the president a number of times. Forest’s successes were irrelevant to him. He only cared about Jenny who has messed up her life a great deal. Forest proves through the movie that “anyone can love anyone”. Forest Gump was a success and it made a gross worldwide revenue of $677,387,716.
My Name is Khan (MNIK), on the other hand, is a decidedly different movie. Firstly, because it is based in a altogether different era and discusses vital issues prevailing in the world post 9/11. It is not just a story of a journey of a man but it depicts serious problems faced by Muslims in the United States.
MNIK is an Indian drama film released in 2010, directed by Karan Johar and written by Shibani Bathija. The lead role, Rizwan, in this film is played by the Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. Rizwan Khan is a Muslim who grew up with his mother in Mumbai in a middle class family. In the movie, Rizwan has Asperger's syndrome since childhood but has exceptional skill in repairing mechanical things. Rizwan learns his way through life with the help of his mother. After his mother dies, Zakir, Rizwan’s brother, takes him to United States. In the US, he meets and falls in love with a Hindu woman, Mandira. They marry and settle down in Banville with Sameer, Mandira’s son from her previous marriage. After the incident of 11 September, the Khan family face exceeding amount of racial prejudice. Due to this, Sameer ends up killed in a fight. This shatters Mandira. In her grief, she blames Rizwan for all their troubles and asks him to leave. She sarcastically tells him only to return after telling the people and the President of the United States that “his name is Khan and that he is not a terrorist”. Rizwan then sets on a journey to meet the president. He was arrested a few times during his attempts to meet the President. In his journey, he helps out restore the town of Wilhemina, which was destroyed in a hurricane and becomes a national hero. He gains extensive media attention in the process and ends up achieving two main goals. Although he did meet the president at the end, he also managed to put the murderers of his son behind bars. The movie was a phenomenal success because of the cast and the political controversy surrounding the movie. The movie did a business of a total $42,345,360, globally.

Both movies are about a journey of a man who has altruistic nature. Both Forest and Rizwan find love and try their best to hold on to it. Both men were brought up by their mother and constantly quoted their mother throughout the movie. Rizwan had a special skill of repairing things while forest had a special ability to run. Rizwan had Asperger's syndrome while Forest had below average IQ. These similarities clearly show that that MNIK may be inspired by Forest Gump.

Nevertheless, both movies have numerous differences as well. The most basic differences between the two movies are the difference in the setting and the language. MNIK was primarily made in Hindi while Forest Gump is an English movie. Both movies were based in the US but in a different era. While Forest Gump is shot in the setting of the 1900s, MNIK was mainly based on the post 9/11 situations. The plots of both movies are different. All the scenes of the movies are different. While Forest had no intention to meet the President of US, Rizwan’s aim was to meet the President. The concepts of both the films are also poles apart. The feeling evoked that both movies are entirely different as well. Hence, the vast differences in the both movies suggest that MNIK has not plagiarized anything from the Forest Gump.

Extent of Plagiarism

Plagiarism does not mean that if the same idea is used to make another movie in a different setting and in another language, it might necessarily generate the same audience. Bollywood target market is the Indians living in India and abroad, who can understand the language. Hollywood, however, targets everyone across the globe, who understands English. Nevertheless, with the advancement in technology, it is now exceedingly easy to dub Hindi movies into other languages. This might cause the revenue of Hollywood to fall. Nonetheless, due to different setting of the movies in these industries, both movies will not appeal to the audience in the same way.

Indian culture is unique. Indian religion and values are poles apart from that of Americans. For this reason, despite the same plot, two movies may be divergent experience for the audience. Conversely, globalization has caused the cultures to reduce their differences and if plagiarism is not stopped it will cut into the revenue of Hollywood movies.

            Furthermore, it is essential to note that, despite these differences, both movies can have the same impact if the extent of plagiarism is too high. This is true in case of Hitch and Partner. As both films are extremely similar they will create the same audience experience. This must have affected the revenue of Hitch drastically. Thus, plagiarism should be treated as a terribly serious offense. MNIK, on the other hand, which plagiarized Forest Gump’s idea at a truly basic level, will provide the audience with a unique experience as compared to Forest Gump. Therefore, some amount of plagiarism should be permitted.

In addition, plagiarism could be totally accidental. For instance, when two movies are made on the same issue or topic, some ideas, dialogues, scenes or plot is bound to be similar. This similarity may not necessarily be due to plagiarism.

This leads us to the critical question faced by many lawmakers. How much similarity should be considered permissible? In text, how many exact words can be copied from the original text? In software, how many lines of computer code should be the same in order to make one work a plagiarized version of another? In movies, how many similar scenes are required to mark a work as a plagiarized version of another? To what extent can there be similarities in ideas depicted in two movies? Although it is necessary to draw a clear line, in order to distinguish original work from plagiarized work, it is not always possible to do so. Thus, to distinguish we are completely reliant on the judgment of people accessing the work and their memory.

Additionally, regardless of the extent of plagiarism, the person who is making a film using someone else’s ideas should acknowledge it and ask for permission before using the idea in their movies. In India, where enforcement of law is not particularly efficient, there are few chances of plagiarizer being caught and held accountable for breaching of copyrights in his work.

Preventing Plagiarism

Hollywood movie plagiarism is now common practice in Bollywood. This is mainly because of the weak enforcement of law in India. Most critics suggest that such activities do not damage the revenue of Hollywood film producers. They explain that Indian culture is vastly different from that of other countries. Most customers targeted by Bollywood prefer watching Bollywood movies rather than Hollywood movies (Baer, 2012). So, even if the plagiarized Bollywood movies are not made, these customers will still prefer watching Bollywood movies to watching Hollywood movies. Indian population is very passionate about Bollywood. Thus, Hollywood penetration in India is fairly limited. Nonetheless, it is vital to note that if the plagiarism is somehow prevented in Bollywood, the culture of Indian people might change and Hollywood movies are able to gain popularity among people due to their strong storylines. People will start watching Hollywood movies because they don’t have any alternative “indianized” version for it (Basi).
Whether or not Bollywood plagiarism has harmed Hollywood remains to be an open question. However, plagiarism is still a serious threat for Hollywood film makers because of its potential to drastically affect the revenue of the movies. Therefore, movie studios should take some steps to prevent such plagiarism.

            Firstly, all Hollywood filmmakers should buy the copyrights for their movies. Copyrights give the creator of the original work the exclusive right to use his work for a limited time. This means that for a limited time, only the holder of copyrights is legally allowed to use this original work. It is a form of intellectual property. If Hollywood filmmakers obtain the copyright for their movie, they can legally sue the Bollywood or any other film maker, who try to plagiarize their original work.

After this, the movie studios should ensure strict punishment for copyright infringement in other countries. Hollywood movie makers can collude and lobby the US government to threaten India for imposing trade restrictions if they fail to increase the severity of punishment of copyright infringement to standards agreed upon by the US film makers. US is in the dominant position here because one-sixth of Indian exports are done to the US. These trade restrictions would be detrimental to the Indian economy.

Lastly, moviemakers should ensure strict enforcement of copyright laws in other countries. Hollywood film makers should make sure that once the copyright laws are altered to their satisfaction, the law must also be implemented properly in India. This means that all the Indian movies who plagiarize from Hollywood after the enforcement of the new laws must be severely punished. It is crucial to keep the punishment of plagiarism so high that the overall cost of making the plagiarized movie outweighs the benefit. This would gradually reduce the plagiarism of Hollywood movies in Bollywood.

Piracy in India

Another huge threat for both the Bollywood and Hollywood film makers in India is the movie piracy. Piracy is like a parasite which eats the potential revenue to be derived from production of a movie. In India, pirates record the entire movie on mobile cameras or camcorders and later burn CDs or post these movies online.  Secondly, the film exhibition market of India is highly fragmented. Hence for distribution purposes, a long distribution channel is used which increases the chance of leakages at any point in the channel. Furthermore, the movies original DVDs are released a few months after the movies are released in theatres. Thus, those who want to watch the movie as soon as it comes out buy pirated DVDs. Therefore, these pirated DVDs are in demand. Another factor that keeps the demand for the pirated DVD high is the low cost of these pirated CDs. While the original VCDs and DVDs are priced around $5 to $10, the pirated version could be purchased for as low as $1 per CD. Additionally, most pirated CDs also contain more than one movie and as many as five movie per CD. This creates the demand for pirated CDs. Considering these factors; it is not surprising to see that the pirates are making a profit margin of up to 800 percent.

To reduce such piracy, a number of steps could be taken. This involves educating the movie makers, the lawmakers and the consumers. Educating movie makers involves introducing them to new technology. The digital movie technology, for instance, not only improves the picture quality of the product but also encrypts and watermarks the movie. These digital encryptions guarantee that only some particular theatres have access to the movies. Furthermore, the watermark will help to trace the cinema in which illegal piracy is taking place. The movie makers should then lobby to force the government to educate the lawmakers regarding the losses borne by the industry so that the copyright law could be enforced more strictly. The lawmakers should also be forced to increase the punishment and penalty for piracy. Additionally, private agents should be hired by the law enforcement agencies to conduct raids on piracy operations. Lastly, the customers need to be made aware of the affects of piracy on the industry so that they boycott pirated products (Lakshmi, 2011).
 
Anti Piracy measures for My Name is Khan
As MNIK is expected to be spectacular success in both Indian market and abroad, the profits were expected to be high. Therefore, it was crucial for Fox Star to take anti-piracy measures, in order to maximize the return from the production of the movie. On a general level, the recommendation made earlier regarding educating the lawmakers and the public as well as using digital technology must be practiced. Furthermore, to discourage piracy, any kind of recording in cinema must be strictly prohibited. Fox Star could also hire private agents who will raid sites where piracy is suspected to happen. To prevent the pirated version of MNIK to be released online for free, agencies should be hired by the company to reduce piracy for both the domestic and the foreign users. These agencies would report and ensure shutdown of any illegal website in India or abroad that provides downloads of the pirated version of the movies. This strategy would be costly for the firm but it will give a strong signal to the pirates that the company will not tolerate piracy to any extent (Lakshmi, 2012).

Additionally, to prevent the movie from leaking during the distribution process, a specialized distribution network should be used with every step planned to ensure minimum leakage. During the early weeks of the release, the prints should be distributed abroad and around India very prudently by the company. If possible, fox Star personnel should be assigned to deliver these prints themselves. This distribution process would be expensive and time consuming but, if implemented properly, would reduce piracy and boost the sales of the original DVDs and VCDs (Lakshmi, 2012).
In addition, the original DVDs of the movie, which are released a few months after the theatrical release, must be released sooner so that their demand is intact when they are released. Moreover, the cost of these DVDs should be lowered so that more people are able to afford it. Lower price of these DVDs will undoubtedly reduce the profit earned on each CD. However, lower prices will boost the revenue as more CDs are sold. This will eventually help in reducing the demand for pirated CDs in the market.

Piracy is a critical problem and it has drastically affected revenues on several films in India. The movie cost around $7.58 million to produce while the distribution rights were sold to Fox Star entertainment for $19.95 million. This made MNIK one of the most expensive films in Bollywood. MNIK is planned to have an unusually aggressive publicity campaign and will be dubbed in many language so as to target more customers. Moreover, Bollywood stars with huge fan following across the globe have played the lead role in the movie. The story too centered around post 9/11 prejudice which at the time was the “hot” topic. All this factors pointed towards the success of the venture if piracy is controlled. Therefore, the firm had to take serious anti-piracy measures so as to enjoy maximum profitability from the production of the movie.
 
References

Lakshmi, Iyer and Arora, Namrata (2011); Hollywood in India: Protecting Intellectual Property (A). Harvard Business Review.
Lakshmi, Iyer and Arora, Namrata (2012); Hollywood in India: Protecting Intellectual Property (B). Harvard Business Review.
Dudrah, K. (2002) Vilayati Bollywood: Popular Hindi Cinemagoing and Diasporic south Asian identity in Birmingham (UK). The Public, 9 (1), p.19-36.
Boxofficemojo.com (2012) Hitch (2005) - Box Office Mojo. [online] Available at: http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=Hitch.htm [Accessed: 31 May 2012].
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Imdb.com (1990) Forrest Gump (1994) - Synopsis. [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109830/synopsis [Accessed: 31 May 2012].
Boxofficemojo.com (2012) Forrest Gump (1994) - Box Office Mojo. [online] Available at: http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=forrestgump.htm [Accessed: 31 May 2012].
Desai, R. (2005) Copyright Infringement in the Indian Film Industry. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment Law & Practice, 7 (2), p.259-278.
Basi, H. (2010) Indianizing Hollywood: The Debate over Bollywood’s Copyright Infringement. Law Review, p.1-32.
Baer, K. (2012) Plagiarism and Bollywood: Rethinking Cultural Appropriation. [online] Available at: http://filmigirl.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/plagiarism-and-bollywood.pdf [Accessed: 31 May 2012].

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