I did it my way, said the Indian composer

When I was a junior reporter, I worked for an editorial department head who used to copy my work and re-sell it to other newspapers.

One day, I worked up my courage and fearlessly stormed into his room, on my knees. Holding my head high, I threw my accusations in his face: "Look, terribly sorry to bother you, but I think you may have, er, accidentally copied my stories every day for the past three weeks and sold them to other newspapers."

"I most certainly did not," he replied, looking most affronted. "I re-wrote them. If I re-write a story, it legally becomes my work."

I apologized and stormed proudly out of the office, backwards, bowing.

The next morning, I took my own latest article and compared it with one which appeared in a different newspaper under his name. Not a single word had been changed.

So I charged into his room and once more violently tore a strip off him: "Look, I’m really, really sorry to bother you again, but I think you may have forgotten to re-write any of my words in this one."

He pointed to the top of the article. "I changed those two words," he said, pointing to my name, which he had changed to his name.

That incident taught me a very important lesson about ethics in Asian business.

There aren’t any.

One of my all-time favourite Asian TV news clips is a CNBC report last year on music plagiarism in Bollywood. The TV anchor interviewed musician Pritam Chakravaty, who is credited with composing many famous songs that most of us thought were written by other people. For example, he, er, "composed" My Way by Paul Anka, which appears under his name on one of his soundtracks.

Now, it’s good interviewing technique to start with easy questions before shifting to tough ones which force people to admit their crimes. So the smart TV interviewer innocently asked: "To what do you credit your great success?"

Mr Chakravarty, wriggling with guilt, replied: "Er. Well. Er. I don’t know. You see I have been very, er. I just concentrate on my work. It just happened!"

Having got an instant confession without any work at all, the interviewer turned to Anu Malik, an Indian composer who "composed" many famous Western tunes, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Phantom of the Opera and Listen to the Falling Rain.

Listing several famous songs, the interviewer said: "These are extremely well-known tunes. Do you think people in India would not know?"

"It’s no big deal," replied Malik. He thought it most unfair that he should be accused of copying music when all he had done was copy some music, as many plagiarists had done. "Why single me out?" he whined. "Why not all the other composers?"

The TV interviewer turned to an intellectual property lawyer named Praveen Anand and asked him to identify the prime factors for determining whether a song had been copied.

The lawyer replied: "Whether there has been copying." He then expanded on this point. "At the root of copyright law, there is copying."

Anyway, I’d just like to tell readers that they are free to copy any columns of mine containing libel and slander. Just remember to take out my name and put in your own.

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