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‘Plagiarism is value addition, not dilution’

Ram Gopal Verma, the Bhatts and anyone else whose film plots are “inspired” by other films have a supporter in cinephile Bangalore lawyer Lawrence Liang.

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‘Plagiarism is value addition, not dilution’
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Ram Gopal Verma, the Bhatts and anyone else whose film plots are “inspired” by other films have a supporter in cinephile Bangalore lawyer Lawrence Liang.

He believes plagiarism is a great thing. “We always look at copying as a value dilution,” says Liang. “Why not see it as value addition instead, where every copy adds to a repertoire?”

Liang’s views — though not necessarily popular in all quarters — shouldn’t be dissed: He’s a legal expert on copyright, patents and intellectual property. Now, he’s putting together a book on another hotly-debated topic, censorship. The work, entitled “The Public is Watching” will be out soon.

If it’s anything like the talk Liang delivered at a seminar on censorship recently, organised by the Indian Documentary Producers Association, expect caustic asides, biting wit and lots of trivia. Liang’s “historical reconstruction of censorship” in cinema covers the period from the 1920s to today, from travelling theatres to pirated DVDs. And it’s crammed with anecdotes, “footnote figures” (Greenwood, the overenthusiastic, late 19th century electricity inspector who decided to edit out “inflammable” material from the cinema of the day or Shyam Narayan Choksi who filed a case against Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’s use of the National Anthem) and a read between the lines of lesser-known lawsuits and judgments.

It might be academic, but also a fun read for cinema buffs. For instance, Liang’s own take on censorship, he says, is like the Hidayatullah paradox, named for the famous judge who heard two landmark disputes, the KA Abbas and Ranjit Udeshi cases (the latter, about a ban on Lady Chatterley’s Lover). “It’s a simple question of depravity,” explains Liang with mock seriousness. “If Hidayatullah was turned on by (DH Lawrence’s novel), then he was probably too depraved to judge it. If he wasn’t, then it’s clean enough to pass.” In other words, says Liang, there’s no point in censorship at all.

So far Liang’s yet-to-be-published work seems to have got the thumbs-up from most sections. Filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, who has sparred with censors several times, sees it as a “great resource for a cause”, which sidesteps the simplification of whether to have censorship and tackles the nuances of a complicated issue. Vinayak Azad, Mumbai, representative of the Film Certification Board, hopes it will “clear out some misconceptions about censorship.” With intellectual property rights still a grey area in the arts in India, Liang’s book can only help.

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