Ananya Pathak
Points of View

Are ideas theft-proof in ad land?

Within ten days of our report on the Ogilvy-Vivo spat, we became aware of Matheno Films intitiating legal action against Citibank over a copied film. Within a fortnight, the two creative agencies — Ogilvy India (a part of WPP) and Matheno Films (a creative partner of Schbang) — found themselves suing brands for a stolen idea. Where Mumbai-headquartered Ogilvy India took smartphone maker Vivo and its creative agency, Dentsu Impact to court over allegations of plagiarism, the latter came into limelight after Matheno Films' claimed that Citi's Diwali special ad film — 'Spread More Cheer This Diwali' — resembled a 2017 short film — 'Cup of Tea' — released by them.

These two cases are sure not the first, and as much as we wish, not the last ones either. Empathising with the victim and hoping that it ceases to happen in the future isn't a plausible solution too.

Commenting on the situation, Jitendra Rai, director and producer, Matheno Films, says, “It is highly disappointing to see a brand of such caliber create a film that is a direct copy of our film – Cup of Tea. We have engaged with Citibank by sending out a legal notice to which we are awaiting a response. We request the support of the creative community to not allow such practices where the scripts are merely lifted.”

Priyanka Setia, director of the Citibank Diwali commercial, said, “I respect the genuineness and the message of different filmmakers. However, a foot chase is a sequence/concept/idea that exists in the public domain and does not belong to any single film. Such a sequence has been used in a number of films as a tool to achieve unique motives and intentions.”

The question we’re asking is, how did either of these cases occur? But before we question ethics, it is important to ask what is it that’s stopping one from stealing a pitched or an individual's idea? Are industry bodies such as the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) doing enough to protect the rights of agencies?

As per a report, there is no effective way to protect an idea with any form of intellectual property protection. Copyrights protect expression and creativity, not innovation. Patents protect inventions. Neither copyrights or patents protect ideas.

So, are we doing enough to safeguard creative ideas and who'll protect them? We turn to people from the industry who would have a better understanding of the same.

Industry speaks.

Srinivasan K Swamy, chairman, R K SWAMY HANSA Group and chairman and world president, International Advertising Association (IAA)

Srinivasan K Swamy
Srinivasan K Swamy

I am happy that two incidences of IP being misused have come out simultaneously. This has doubly raised the consciousness.

The answer to the question is obvious. We are doing nothing to safeguard the creative agency’s interest. On the second question, the IP creator is principally responsible to protect his own interest.

I say this because of a failed experiment when I was president of AAAI. In 2006, I had the Association pass a resolution that agencies will not participate in pitches without a pitch fee. The idea even then was not to give away ideas for free and the pitch process prescribed that advertisers would sign off that they would not use the ideas presented unless specifically paid for. However, this was not followed as many smaller agencies felt that they would be kept away from pitches.

Given this background, I think it is in the best interest of agencies to have a mandatory slide in every pitch presentation that the ideas presented are their copyright, and no use of these in any manner can be made without their express consent.

Tista Sen, regional creative director at Wunderman Thompson

Tista Sen
Tista Sen

The creative copyright unfortunately in our industry rests with no one. There are numerous stories of taglines appearing on a competitor’s brand, scripts sounding oh-so-familiar and then of course, the ultimate direct copy. Plagiarism is a very strong accusation and this is the first time parties are using a legal recourse. Hopefully this sets a precedent on the creative ownership and forces a high degree of professional integrity for the industry as a whole.

Aalap Desai, executive creative director, Dentsu Webchutney

Aalap Desai
Aalap Desai

There is no safeguard against something like this and it’s been happening for so long now that it has become a joke. Most of us have stories where someone took a part of our presentation and did something with it. It’s generally followed by a casual yet whole-hearted abuse and an unattached yet half-hearted chuckle. The truth is, we’ve gone numb to it and it’s sad. And, we’ve reached this stage because there was nothing you could do. From our kali-peeli driver to our office guard, everyone is part of a union. Unfortunately, we don’t have one and the helplessness has turned into a norm. There must be different sides to the blame-game discussion but I’m happy that at least this discussion has started. Once these examples are set, there’ll be a slight fear before attempting something like this. The fear is a great start.

Minoo Phakey, head of marketing services, Dabur India

The way our business is structured is such that the various agencies that we deal with have expertise in the assigned category. We have five mainline agencies working for a fair period of time with us. Dabur has a long standing relationship with these creative agencies and has built a mutual trust with them. The trust acts as a guardrail against any such idea theft. Also, during the agency-client meetings, we make sure to include only the core team and the agency people and the discussed ideas are restricted within the four walls of the meeting room until executed. Keeping the idea closed between the agency and the team has protected both, us as a brand and our on-board agencies from any such tough times.

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