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This summer, Advaeita Mathur was busy getting married in Mussoorie. Among all the congratulatory greetings, there was one that stood out: she had been accused of wearing a saree that fashion designer Nafisa Rachel William claimed was her original design.

It was 6.5 yards of powder pink fabric with a gold gota border—it could have been anyone’s design. Mathur took to Facebook to respond. “The context of this post can be read in the conversation screenshots below…The larger question is regarding ‘Plagiarism’. It is a rather loaded term and as the lady (William) rightly states—it should be seen for what it is ‘an offense’,” reads an excerpt from her Facebook post.

Screenshots at the rescue

William confronted Mathur over Instagram, where she wrote: “I have been sent screenshots of a pink sari you wore recently that is uncannily similar to Iqrar, a sari I designed for my most recent collection – down to even the gold fringe bordering the sari, and the shade of pink I have used. If indeed you have been “inspired” by my piece, I trust you can imagine how I feel, especially given that you’re a designer yourself, and I hope you view plagiarism as it should be – an offense.”

Mathur, a Delhi-based furniture and jewelry designer, pointed out in her response that the light pink saree with gold gota is “used in the Mathur household, worn by the bride during Haldi and then donated along with the money received as blessings. It is a cheap synthetic saree dyed in a specific light pink and tacked with gota,” she said. In her Facebook post, she even attached images of her mother wearing the same saree when she was getting married to her maternal grandmother sitting next to her, also in the same pink saree.

“So the only offense here is either your plagiarism of a traditional saree from a community you know little off (sic) or sheer ignorance on calling a 6-meter cloth tacked with zari, an ‘original’ saree by your label.”

William had no public response and declined to comment for this story. Mathur also declined to comment.

Similar goof-ups may end up plaguing the likes of Diet Sabya too—the line between copy and coincidence, after all, is a fine one.

Being coped upon

“Fashion is something that relies on being copied. If it isn’t copied, it’s unsuccessful. From haute couture, if it doesn’t hit the mainstream and if the design isn’t copied, it means it hasn’t worked well and fashion relies on such copying because they need to produce new things every time,” says Pranesh Prakash, a former fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bengaluru-based think tank.

“The worlds of copyright and plagiarism are very different. The law does not prohibit plagiarism at all. You can plagiarise as much as you want without having conducted infringement and you can infringe without having engaged in plagiarism,” explains Prakash.

Multiple discoveries at the same time

Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson, in his four-part video series Everything Is A Remix, offers another facet to plagiarism noting that multiple discoveries were made at the same time in different places. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell filed patents for the telephone around the same time. Alfred Russel Wallace’s theory of evolution was very similar to that of Charles Darwin’s and both emerged around the same period.

“We are all building with the same materials. Sometimes by coincidence, we get some of the results but sometimes innovations just seem inevitable,” he says.

“Butter chicken was invented 75 years ago. The first butter chicken was made in Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi with leftover tandoori chicken from the previous night’s menu. Now there are thousands of recipes of butter chicken. Whose is original and whose is authentic? Will Moti Mahal say this is ours and nobody can make this? No,” says food critic and archaeologist Kurush F. Dalal.


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