Would Shakespeare survive today’s copyright laws?

Article for Blog Post Writing Competition 2011 | by Vikrant Shetty

April 16th, 20117:26 pm

What is the most resilient parasite? –An idea!

–Leonardo Di Caprio (Inception)

But can an idea be copyrighted? Sadly, the answer is no. The laws of copyright are very clear that side as in their pure form cannot be copyrighted. It is the expression of the idea that can be copyrighted. The Court held in Barbara Taylor Bradford vs Sahara Media Entertainment Ltd. :

“Copyright, however, does not extend to ideas, or schemes, or systems, or methods; it is confined to their expression; and if their expression is not copied the copyright is not infringed. The case of Baker V. Selden , already referred to, illustrates this very well. It was there held that the author of a system of book-keeping was not entitled to any monopoly in the system, but was only entitled to prevent the other persons from copying his description of it.”

copyrightFor example, if I discover a way of inventing a flying car and somebody after some time actually makes a flying car using the same principles which I had discovered, then I will not get protection under copyright as I did not implement it. However, if I had drawn the plans on paper, I would have protection copyright in the design of the car.

These days we all are in the habit of copying.  Any assignment or paper must be written, we directly copy it from Wikipedia or any other website that shows in the Google search. Copy and paste. Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V. However if we take part in a writing competition and use this method, we might be disqualified on grounds of unoriginality and that we do not have copyright in the work as it is someone else’s words we are using.

However that does not mean you cannot copy. You can. But smartly. You see, the law does not allow us to copyright some basic concepts. Also, we are free to take “inspiration” from other works. The most famous defence for copying is “Nothing is new under the sun”.  This principle is true to some extent. Everything we make, say or do, it is likely someone has done the same before. Also Shakespeare had also taken concepts,parts and even story lines from several other plays and modified and combined them to make plays such as “Othello”. He had got the main story line for Othello from Giraldi Cinthio’s novel, Hecatommithi. The novel was published in 1565 and Othello first performed in the early 1600.

So when you hear a lot of interesting stories, mix them together to make a few great and memorable stories and one day when you recite those to the same people who told it to you in the beginning, they will be surprised to see how some parts of it were similar to their own life stories yet amazed at the overall effect of your story.

So people, if you’re going to copy, don’t worry about copyright just make sure you copy RIGHT! (After all how many sources do you think I used to write this post?)

Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.-Mark Twain


(Image courtesy- duradarshi.com)

Article by-

Vikrant Shetty, First year Student

Rizvi Law College, Mumbai

[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]

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