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Plagiarism Row: Rohit Bal shames copycat designer, industry calls for a social media campaign

Veteran designers such as Rohit Bal, JJ Valaya, Suneet Varma and others call for a concrete press/social media campaign to fight copycat designers. By Karan Bhardwaj

Rohit Bal

Spot the difference! Design by Rohit Bal (left); Seema Mehta’s design (right)

The quiet month of June has triggered a fierce battle over plagiarism in the fashion industry on social media. What started with a particular post by eminent designer Rohit Bal two days back, where he slammed a designer for copying his designs without naming her, has snowballed into a larger debate of copyright on Facebook. Bal’s colleagues, established and younger ones, have come out openly to name and shame designers and Chandni Chowk wallas who are thriving on the rip-off business, and are even demanding a stricter policy or support system from the Fashion Design Council of India, the apex fashion body in this country.

Bal, in his Facebook and Instagram posts, uploaded an image showing a rip off of his velvet jacket with floral embroidery along with his original design, without naming the ‘parasitical’ designer. The caption reads: “The original by Rohit Bal on the ramp. The fake by some parasitical designer. Adding her name would be giving her unnecessary publicity. We are surrounded by wannabes and parasitical desperate designers who should really hide their heads in shame and not strip this creative art of all its dignity and respect. Shame on you SM. She has also used the same model. Just the height of blatant shamelessness and utter disrespect for this profession. Feeling disgusted and appalled.” (sic) The post went viral and attracted multiple comments and suggestions from senior designers and fashion observers.

Rohit Bal, in response to comments on his post, mentioned that ‘the only solution is a press expose or some sort of a social media campaign’, but that ‘needs to be done in numbers’. The designer has little hope from the judicial battle as the process is tedious and cumbersome. “I am gathering as much information on this as I possibly can. It will then make more sense for the media to write about it. This is one isolated example. We need a larger, stronger representation of such examples of these parasitical plagiarists (sic),” he said adding that the FDCI and designers should come forward and expose ‘bigger fishes’ involved in this rip-off business.

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Rohit Bal

Rohit Bal/Source

Designer JJ Valaya says there is a need of ‘of a social media/press campaign on behalf of the FDCI and signed by the originals which takes the issue of plagiarism up on a larger platform.’ “I face this issue every few days with my designs (as most of us do) and recently, what was most shocking, was when some clients of mine who had also liked Anamika’s (Khanna) work on social media (but were unaware that it was hers) had another ‘popular’ designer duo offering to make it for them anyways. It was also sad to note that this duo were members of the FDCI and we all know that several of such types are around stealing from the originals and blatantly cheating clients as well. Change, if initiated, has to be through a serious campaign educating the client about the importance and respect of originality for the development of any country’s fashion identity. Suggest we make this a board (FDCI) agenda,” Valaya wrote on Facebook.

Tarun Tahiliani, another Indian couturier who has dressed up many national and global celebrities, has long given up on the legal fights against copycats. In a recent interview, which the writer took for The Man magazine, he said, “There’s no copyright law in this country. I have sued people, but realise it’s a waste of time and energy. This is a trivial issue in the law of this country. People spend their whole lives expecting the court to settle petty issues, which in the end remain unresolved.” Interestingly, Tahiliani’s frustration was much more than this comment when he discussed the same issue in yet another interview with the writer, some five years ago. But the fury has gone down with time.

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Well-known designer Suneet Varma too learnt this hard way. He fought a battle against a film-maker for long 11 years but refused to back down. “I took a serious stand and went to court for 11 years which was very tedious, was cross questioned by the country’s top lawyers representing the hit film-makers trying their dirtiest level best to malign me etc. I stuck to my guns and proved them wrong at every level – Eventually they all conceded defeat and (film makers n designer ) had to come personally to court, apologise and give in writing in court that the said designs indeed belonged to me and that they were wrong in doing so! There is light at the end of the tunnel after all. We just have to be tough about it. What is right is right (sic),” Varma posted on Facebook in the conversation.

Safir Anand, a senior expert in trademark and IP issues, says he has already suggested some guidelines to the FDCI to protect creative designs by the designers. “Designers need to protect their designs under respective IP laws. If protected, the recourse is smooth, time and cost efficient and perhaps can also lead to damage claims. Even without statutory protection, there can be recourse in an interesting concoction of copyright law and in some cases even trademark. Further, if there is a case of data theft of any kind, another recourse lies,” Anand, who’s out on a holiday in London, told Born of Web.

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