Copyright On Creativity?

By Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising
Last updated : February 29, 2016
Ogilvy claims that Leo Burnett's recent HDFC Life campaign #MemoriesforLife is inspired by its Future Generali ad of 2012. We asked industry experts if it is possible to have copyright on creativity.

Inspiration, or dare we say plagiarism, is not new to the ad world. In a recent development related to this, two advertising biggies have locked horns over an insurance company's ad campaign.

Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) has accused Leo Burnett's recent work on HDFC Life campaign 'Memories for Life'. The former claims that the ad in question is inspired by its previous ad spot created for Future Generali Life Insurance titled 'The Last Message', released in 2012. The minute-and-a-half-long video features a man looking into the camera, deliver a pre-recorded message to his son, a feature that the company offers in his online life insurance policy.

HDFC Life, which released its Memories for Life campaign this month, also features a pre-recorded father's message to his son. However, in the entire video, the focus is on the son and his journey back home.

O&M claims that the Leo Burnett ad is not 'original' and has already been executed by it (O&M) in 2012. Sukesh Kumar Nayak, executive creative director, O&M India, who directly worked on Future Generali's campaign, states, "We take great pride in the work that we create for our clients. A lot of hard work was put in by the team at Future Generali and Ogilvy to make this path-breaking digital idea happen way back in 2011. In fact, we spent almost a year figuring the technicalities."

Meanwhile, Leo Burnett retorted stating that the Memories for Life platform by HDFC cannot be compared to an online video which cannot be found via Google search.

The statement from Burnett reads, "We cannot compare a small online video with an always-on platform. Comparing this video (which even a Google search cannot reveal) with a massive platform built by HDFC Life and Leo Burnett is frankly, a joke. This is like comparing a 'Nike +' platform with an internal AV done on a community of runners."

We asked a group of ad-marketing folks on what they consider as plagiarism. Is it to do with the basic idea, or the creative execution? And, if a category, product, or a specific service lends itself to a certain kind of communication, then should the very concept of plagiarism be re-evaluated? Edited excerpts.

Spandan Mishra, head - strategic planning, Rediffusion-Y&R

Spandan Mishra

The idea of copyright becomes redundant. I do not know how much of law we understand in advertising as far as intellectual property is concerned. IP law in India, as I understand, is fairly vague. It's only been over the last eight years that with the explosion of the content and media houses being opened to the world outside, IP has become a conversation point. Until 2005, most Hindi movies had stories directly lifted from Hollywood films. It's only when Disney and Fox have entered the Indian market that the IP laws are being taken seriously. There's no way one can patent the idea of a memory. The right of a commercial is typically owned by a client so who should be accused of plagiarism?

Yet, I think HDFC Life should have been worried about Future Generali having done a similar film three years ago. As agencies, we are mandated to come up with ideas, clients should also be aware of the fact that their competitor has a similar product which they must have promoted. I'm surprised that nobody at HDFC Life pointed it out that there is a feature that its competitor offers and a film has also been created for the same.

There is also a similar campaign by Thai Life Insurance which was about a father talking to his son which came out seven or eight years before 2012. So, Ogilvy must also look within itself. As far as creative plagiarism goes, I feel there is a genuine paucity of ideas. Unfortunately, we revert to hunting for inspiration outside, but we don't steal like artists. Creativity is about taking two existing ideas, putting them together in an unexpected way and creating something new. A lot of advertising that comes across as insightful has been picked up directly from life. If you want to take an idea from somebody, then do so, but do it well. If a junior copywriter has come up with an idea, someone from HDFC Life should have raised the flag, and hence, it is equally to be blamed for the fiasco.

Santosh Padhi, chief creative officer and co-founder, TapRoot India

Santosh Padhi

There is a provision to copyright film scripts and even a logo or brand identity. Advertisements, somehow, were never copyrighted. But, the advertising fraternity always respected each other's work and never copied it. There's a great degree of measure being taken to ensure that the creatives executed are not similar to ones being used globally. Culturally, this has been the behaviour of Indian advertising agencies. There are some cases such as the Sulekha and Exide Life Insurance's Anti Jugaad commercials which have similar frames, but that is not plagiarism. So, one is allowed to use slice of moments and insights and turn it into an ad.

As an industry, we have not copied anybody's work, though there are a few who always get inspired, but their boss must make sure that they kill the idea. But, plagiarism happens openly in Bollywood, and in fact, the work is now judged on how well it is copied. It is a pathetic practice and I'm absolutely against it. All creative communities must stand up and stop it because it tends to have a negative rub off.

The campaigns in question are pretty close to each other. If the agency and client knew about the Future Generali video, I do not think they would have executed it. So, I think the Future Generali campaign was not full-fledgedly released because it is not there on either the agency or brand's online channels. Nobody copies ideas from a player in the same category on purpose. It is a one-off case, and we should let it go.

Navin Talreja, founding partner, The Womb

Navin Talreja

Vicky Shah

The first reaction by the involved parties was that the scale at which the ideas were executed is not comparable. For me, that is a flawed argument as implicit in that statement is an acceptance that the ideas are similar, albeit coincidentally. This is not the first time that such coincidences have happened in the ad world. I believe ideas should be copyrighted and that way, all agencies can make more money and get paid the right value for transformational thinking.

Vicky Shah, advocate

In India, we do not have the provision to copyright the idea, however, the content can be copyrighted. It could be literary or artistic work that is copied/used in the ad that can be brought under the law. One has to note whether the HDFC Life campaign has used similar speech or words used in the Future Generali campaign. In this case, I believe there is no direct copying of the ad. The Future Generali ad targets a different age group -- that of middle-aged consumers insuring their children's future while the HDFC campaign features a young man who is a prospective insurance policy buyer. Personally, I do not find the idea similar in both campaigns.

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First Published : February 29, 2016


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