Sep 09
THE PROBLEM WITH COPYRIGHT by Alex J. Socorro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Thu, Sep 9, 2010

In the recent consultation of FILCOLS and IPO Philippines with authors and writers, there were two things that were clearly stated. First is that copyright is inherent to the creator. Second is that copyright infringement is difficult to prove.

Atty. Louie Calvario of IPO (Intellectual Property Rights Office) states a simple example. When you write a story, in the case of an author, the rights to that story is yours. And since you own that story, it cannot be used nor copied without your permission.

Atty. Louie Calvario of IPO Philippines with FILCOLS staff Joey and Bebang

But before you make a conclusion, think again. Is copying limited to a the entirety or to a portion? How about if the paragraphs were rewritten without altering the idea? Does the usage restriction apply only to publication? What if the story is used in story-telling sessions for the public audience?

Accusing someone of plagiarism is one thing and proving the violation is another thing. An artistic creation is born from an idea and ideas cannot be copyrighted. Simply put, unless the copying is verbatim (word for word) there surely would be some technicalities in the plagiarism issue.

So even if your plot is unique like having two women whose newly-born babies were secretly exchanged for the benefit of one, it would still be difficult to prove. That’s the actual plot of Desaparesidos, the novel of Lualhati Bautista.

Lualhati had written Desaparesidos for a teleplay which was shown on GMA-7 in 1997. She had expanded the script for a contest and eventually earned for her the 3rd prize of the Philippine Centennial Literary Contest. Later on, she had converted it into a book novel which was released in the market by Cacho Publishing House in 2007

Novel writer and scriptwriter Lualhati Bautista

A copyright infringement complaint can be filed at IPO, says Atty. Calvario, as an advice to Lualhati who had already discounted filing a case in court. “Bukod sa napakamahal ng filing fee, hindi ko na talaga kakayanin ang hearing. High blood kasi ako,” declares the veteran writer. But despite her imminent surrender, Lualhati wants to create noise if only to prevent a recurrence of her problem. Particularly for smaller writers, an infringement case is unthinkable to pursue.

IPO Philippines has a mediating office where, hopefully in some cases, the cases can be resolved in an amicable manner, i.e. without resorting to a court case. And the good thing about is it that it is for free, assures Atty. Calvario who wished that Lualhati’s problem would be a test case.

For infringement of copyright, the first element would be economic gain. Like the story-telling session, if the organizer earns from it, the copyright owners of the stories should be compensated. That also goes with photocopying of books being done even in some state universities.

For partially copied or partially used materials, it would depend on the manner. A quoted excerpt of a story is not considered plagiarism if used to complement a relevant subject matter. Especially if the author is indicated (credited), the use of such materials (portions and excerpts) may not need permission from the copyright owner.

But for huge works like a novel or a movie, there’s no such thing as copying in entirety because even adaptations would surely have alterations from the original, be it the plot, characters or events therein.

The movie Sigwa, which was a finalist in the Cinemalaya Film Festival, has a glaring similarity to Desaparesidos, as claimed by Lualhati. Sigwa was directed by Joel Lamangan from the script of Bonifacio Ilagan.

From a technical point of view, similarities whether glaring or not would have to undergo deeper scrutiny. And again, mere similarities are hard to prove. No matter if the plots (of the movie and the novel) both revolve around a woman in the underground movement. No matter if the crux of the story is about the child of that dissident woman.

However, the backgrounder tells a different story. Lualhati says that once upon a time, she had given her script to Joel Lamangan. Now the plot thickens, so to speak. This fact is difficult to deny.

In cases of copyright disputes, the author or writer has no recourse but to keep silent and let it pass. For those who has the guts, they go to the media. But right now, there’s no formal complaint yet as to reach the courts.

According to FILCOLS (Copyright Licensing Society, Inc), it is their objective to provide ample protection to copyright holders. Although it is still a long way to go, FILCOLS is trying their best to set up a mechanism like FILSCAP.

FILSCAP (Filipino Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) is an organization that monitors the sales and usage of songs of their members. Since it is a big group, distributing and marketing firms are avoiding direct confrontations with FILSCAP.

In television, there is this thing called harvesting. TV writers swear that networks, or perhaps the staff of networks, do a regular harvesting from writers, especially those writers with no firm connection to the network.

If you are a writer and had pitched your story to a network and eventually you were not called again, you assume that your story was rejected. Fine. But what would you feel if would see your story as part of a bigger story being shown in your favorite channel?

A long time ago, a writer friend asked me to submit gags. The rate was 200 pesos per gag that was accepted. That was the time when two gag shows with a similar names were competing with each other.

My gag was about an elegant woman coming out of a hotel, seemingly to wait for her car. She gets hold of her shoe and uses it like a cellphone to page her driver. Since there was no cellphone yet at the time, the gag appeared funny enough to merit attention so I submitted it to gag show number 1.

After a few weeks, I was surprised to see my gag being used by the rival show. Although I have a big hunch that my gag was harvested, I prefer to think that it was just a coincidence. I can think of another gag, anyway. Or can I?

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