Calling out the copycats: Indian designers and chefs declare a war against plagiarism

9 Jul , 2018  

Taking the lead from #DietSabya, fashion and culinary experts are using social media to name and shame the offenders


Anubhuti Matta 


Unlikely hashtags such as #gandi and #copy have taken the luxury world by storm lately, courtesy an anonymous Instagram handle. In March this year, a social media account called DietSabya (itself inspired by the global Diet Prada), took it upon itself to publicly call out plagiarism in Indian fashion. Among its 54,000 followers—garnered over four months are Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Rhea Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra. In April, in a first for any Indian fashion house, Sabyasachi Couture won the National Intellectual Property Award as the ‘Top Indian Company for Designs and Commercialisation’, given by the Indian Intellectual Property Office – the Government of India. Diet Sabya and Sabyasachi couture have more than just a name in common—they are actively working to call out copycats in the industry. “The copy market in India is like a full-fledged organised mafia,” couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee tells BlackBook. “We know of so many people who sell fake copies of my designs, complete with the brand logo. It’s sad that most of their customers think that they are buying an original Sabyasachi.”


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To tackle this problem in their own way, Diet Sabya has been calling out celebrities and fashion bloggers seen sporting copies; designers and jewellers who blatantly roll out inspired editions; even magazine covers that come off looking similar to global magazine shots. With just over 100 posts so far, the account has amassed a fan following of designers, celebrities, fashion students and regular citizens. “The internet has made everything democratic, which is great,” a Diet Sabya spokesperson said to BlackBook, keeping his or her identity protected. “It takes a fair bit of research for us to call out a copy, but the process is quite natural to us. After more than 10 years in the industry, tracking trends and designers, we can usually look at an outfit and tell if it’s inspired.”


To fight plagiarism, designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee has been registering his designs as intellectual property since 2016

To fight plagiarism, designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee has been registering his designs as intellectual property since 2016


While this may or may not help stop plagiarism, it’s a step in the right direction. “The response has been great,” the spokesperson says. “We’ve got our share of hate too, but nothing of this nature comes without it. We’re prepared to deal with it for the larger objective.” Beyond Instagram It’s a deep-rooted malaise that must go beyond social media, say experts. To address the too-rampant a problem, Mukherjee and his team began to register their designs as intellectual property in 2016, for which they won the award this year. “I want to send a strong message out within the industry—you can’t keep messing around, because we will get to you eventually,” he says. For Bollywood’s coveted designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, finding copies of their designs is a regular occurrence. “So many small-time players post our designs and proudly announce that they can copy and sell them at low prices,” they say. “We’ve reached a point of disgust where we intend to both name, shame and take legal action against them.”

To register a design, copyright or patent isn’t easy, however. It requires serious commitment and time. Post-grant, fashion designers and chefs require a licensing and/or enforcement team. “For many, a short product life cycle— often no more than one season—does not justify the considerable time and financial cost involved,” says Ashok Agarwal, managing partner at Mint Law Associates that specialises in intellectual property rights (IPR). He also adds that as a general rule in IP protection, it is important for designers to understand that ideas, unless novel, innovative and tangible cannot be protected. “Therefore patenting and registering becomes difficult since even a slight inspiration or copy means it is not eligible for registration or a patent.” Designer Payal Khandwala says that copycats are becoming more unapologetic—some have even tagged her official brand on Instagram on a copied design. “I’ve had to call younger brands and weavers personally to stop them from plagiarising my designs,” she says. “It used to upset me, but now it doesn’t surprise me anymore.


AJSK copy


You can never build a brand on a borrowed aesthetic—it has never happened in the history of fashion.” Worth its salt Plagiarism isn’t a challenge limited to the fashion sector. Fine-dine restaurants and top chefs also complain about their recipes and dishes being copied across the country, often served at a fraction of the cost. Zorawar Kalra, Founder and Managing Director of Massive Restaurants, which owns Masala Library, Farzi Café and Pa Pa Ya, says that replication has now become the way businesses run. “In one instance, a Michelin-star restaurant ripped off our signature jalebi caviar,” he says. “The chef community is so close-knit that it’s not always wise to hold a grudge, but there are times when you need to take a stand to protect your business.” Kalra and his legal team have issued notices to certain offenders. “Someone used ‘Farzified’ in their recipe, another copied our dal-chawal arancini—this is beyond tolerance.


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This is when you need to take legal action.” However, as with fashion, it is challenging to prove plagiarism in food—most copies tweak their recipes with a few ingredients added or removed,say chefs. Moreover, registering a dish is difficult. “A recipe, which involves a list of ingredients, cannot be copyrighted, nor can a particular cooking method be registered as the sole property of any individual or organisation,” says Anurag Katriar, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of deGustibus Hospitality, which owns Indigo Deli. Savior: Social media A Facebook page called the Food Bloggers’ Hall of Shame, launched by blogger Rhea Mitra-Dalal in 2014, is fighting against plagiarism in food writing and photography. “We needed a space to discuss plagiarism, especially from blogs, and figure out steps for recourse,” says Dalal. “Instead of just venting and then doing nothing about it, this platform helps us come together, show copycats that there is a watchdog now.”

A group of 20 Indian bloggers, including members of Dalal’s page, took an Android recipe aggregator app called Frying Pan to court, for using their recipes without permission. “The matter was ultimately settled out of court and the app has now adopted a more transparent format,” says Dalal. Hebbar’s Kitchen, an influential recipe video channel, was also on Dalal’s radar. “Many bloggers say that their content is on this channel without permission,” she says. “The channel, however, thrives because viewers don’t care about where the content comes from.” Social media: friend or foe? Social media often comes to the rescue of designers. Khandwala and designer Divya Sheth say that they try and publish their work online almost immediately after a collection is released.


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“Uploading photos as soon as we have a new collection helps establish the chronology of events in case there is a situation where we are copied or accused of copying,” says Khandwala. Chef Sahil Arora, who co-founded 266 – The Wine Room and Bar in Mumbai, says that they are now considering getting some of their recipes patented. But it is important to remember that while social media is useful and calls out perpetrators, it is also the very medium that makes it easy to copy. “With free access to material and photographs on platforms such as Pinterest and Tumblr, which archives uncredited images, fashion and food plagiarism has become a grave concern,” says Khandwala.


Know The Law:

Under Section 11 of the Designs Act, a registered design is copyrighted for a period of 10 yearsfrom the date of registration. The copyright can be further extended for five years.

* If a design has not been registered, it will be protected under section 15(2) of the Copyright Act; however, the copyright protection will expire on an unregistered design if the design has been reproduced on more than 50 articles.

* To be registered and, consequently, protected under the Designs Act, 2000, a design must be: new or original; not disclosed to the public by publication in tangible form or by use or in any other way prior to the date of filing for registration; and it must be significantly distinguishable from known designs or combination of known designs.


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