Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 5, Tuesday, February 2, 2009


creator beware

The topic of Intellectual Property Rights is a burning issue, with artistes, authors, painters and photographers - everyone associated with creative fields of work- raising their voices for their innate right on thoughts. Readers, patrons and connoisseurs have reiterated their support, yet the consumers still remain in the dark regarding the intricacies of the subject. This week, Star Lifestyle, zeroes in on the issue and talks to a few individuals for their say on Intellectual Property Rights.

In Bangladesh, the issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is often taken lightly and thought of as the preserve of the wealthier nations. It is important however, that as we get out of that mindset because IPR protection benefits both sides of the divide the producers and the consumers.

In short, IPR consists of the legal mechanisms copyrights, patents and trademarks that ensure that the products or services we buy are authentic. On the other side of the divide, IPR ensures that innovations and artistic enterprise is rewarded, thus creating an environment in which creative and innovative industries can thrive and contribute to economic and cultural development.

The scope of IPR is diverse, extending from pharmaceutical products to the creations of artists. The latter have been especially disadvantaged by the lamentable state of IPR regulations, with artists in almost every field suffering from any or all of illegal copying, piracy, lack of proper royalty payment frameworks, etc.

Shahidul Alam, iconic photographer and founder of Drik Picture Library identifies some of the problems. “I am not an expert on the issue, but have consulted my friend Rupert Grey, who is an international expert on the subject, and has conducted workshops in Bangladesh during Chhobi Mela,” said the award-winning photographer. “The underlying principles of copyright law are in place, but the current legislation needs to be brought up to date. The real problem lies in the difficulties that rights holders face in protecting their images from being used by publishers without their permission. It takes years and a lot of money to get cases to Court.”

He highlighted the reluctance to change that has blighted IPR progress in Bangladesh: “When our English lawyer, Rupert Grey, was interviewed on NTV, he urged the government to set up specialist courts so that copyright and intellectual property claims could be dealt with quickly and economically. As far as I know, nobody took any notice at all. This severely prejudices Bangladesh's position in the international market, and will go on doing so until the importance of IP rights is recognised.”

In all this, the photographers lot has worsened, according to Alam. “The fees which photographers get paid for published photographs have dropped substantially over the last few years. Also, the advent of the internet means that it is more important that they are given a credit, something which the Bangladeshi media are extremely bad at.”

Things are no less muddled in the literary world. Anisul Haque, Deputy Editor of Prothom Alo, writer and poet, whose works include "Brishtibondhu" and "Amar Ekta Dukkho Achhe", is not convinced by the state of IPR in Bangladesh. "The law is there but is not as yet fully enforced," he offers. "Under the existing circumstances, there is an agreement between the author and the publishers whereby the publishers agree to print a certain amount of copies. The authors are then, according to the agreement, paid a percentage of the sales."

That is the framework within which authors operate, but according to Haque, there is still scope for the setup to go awry: "Of course, we may not always know the exact amount that is being printed and sold," Haque said and went on to identify another bane on the enforcement of IPR. "Piracy is also a huge problem, with illegal copies of books sold in Nilkhet and other places. What the authors can do in these situations is report the infringement to the police, who will then try to apprehend the perpetrators and stop the piracy.

"General awareness has to increase among the public and the intellectuals. It is the responsibility of the artist to register his or her work with the copyright office, so as to have an advantage in any future dispute regarding the property, because theft of ideas is also a big issue.

Also, as I said earlier, we inform the police when any of our works are pirated, but are not really concerned when we see pirated books by foreign authors sold on street corners. There cannot be selective enforcement of the law; it will have to be implemented for all intellectual property, both foreign and local, and the public have a part to play in this,” he concluded.

Goutam Chakraborty, the Director of Galleri Kaya and renowned painter, hints at a deep-rooted tendency to belittle the work of artists as one of the causes of the problem, and relates an anecdote as example: “When I reply to queries about what I do by saying that I paint, people look at me quizzically and often ask 'To apne kothay achhen?' (Where are you working?).”

“Just because I practise my art at home I have often had to hear 'apne to aramey asen' (you are living quite a relaxed life),” Chakroborty added.

The insinuation is obvious; to make artistic excellence the pursuit of one's life is not generally seen as a proper profession but a pastime. This attitude among Bangladeshis has far-reaching implications. If the artistic pursuit is not valued, then it follows that the product will not be valued in the marketplace.

“That mindset will have to change,” he said. “Artists themselves have to be more aware, as do the public. It is all fine for artists to bemoan the fact that their paintings are being used without permission or royalty paid, but unless they take a stand against it, it will keep on happening. Having said that there needs to be an infrastructure put in place that does not require artists to chase royalty payments, instead automatically going to the artists when their works are used.

“A lot of people think that artists are bohemian people, not very business-minded and so will not care about things like that, but they have to realise that those are not traits specific to the profession, but to each individual. Stereotypes like these can only cause damage.”

Chakraborty also pointed out that there needs to be professionalism throughout the chain of production. “There have to be authentic institutions and a willingness to think on a long-term basis,” he said, and went on to elaborate on what he means by professionalism and long-term thinking.

“In the early nineties, when I was in the U.S.A, an exhibition of my work was planned, and the owner of the gallery chalked out a contract over two years. He realised that a new artist will not catch the eye suddenly, so he went about introducing my work by arranging to have some of them included in other exhibitions, so that potential buyers would be familiar with my work. Then, when my work was relatively well-known, I could have my solo exhibition. This sort of long-term planning is largely absent in our country.

“In the West, and even in India, there are art consultants who help set up collections for corporate offices,” said Chakraborty. “These are the types of authentic institutions that will help to bring artists to the forefront and thereby add more value to their work.”

The issue of IPR and its failings in Bangladesh resembles a many-headed monster. Blame cannot be pinned on any one group; it has to be shared. The artists have to be ever aware of their rights being violated, and the general populace will have to value artists and their work. At the same time, the system has to be tightened to ensure that artists are given their due and that the existing laws are implemented. It is imperative for the growth of our young nation that intellectual pursuits, in whatever form, be rewarded.

Photo: Goutam Chakraborty and Anisul Haque at work by Sazzad Ibne Sayed; Shahidul Alam's portrait by Shehab Uddin Ahmed


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