It's all about the copy, right?

It's all about the copy, right?

There is a thin line between "inspiration" and "copying" in the art world. The 90s kids think Lady Gaga is revolutionary in pop culture, while many of Madonna's die-hard fans think instead of being born that way she is nothing but a copycat. The debate continues.

Here in Bangkok, the "inspiration versus plagiarism" debate is heating up in the literary scene, following the announcement of this year's SEA Write award, the country's most coveted book prize. Kon Krae (The Dwarf), a dark novel that deeply studies human relationships by Phatthalung writer Wipas Srithong was named the winner (see front page interview).

No, it wasn't the winning book that caused controversy, but during the press conference of the announcement, a member of the audience questioned the committee on whether he deserved to receive such a respected award, when four years ago a group of literary critics found a similarity between Wipas's short story W.S.6 Sept and Peter Carey's Peeling.

By having such a dubious history, Jitti Noosuk, a committee member of the Writers' Association of Thailand, who started the controversy, believes he should never have been allowed to receive the prestigious award, arguing Wipas's actions corrupted the ethic of writers. One of the SEA Write committee answered that judges were aware of his unsolved case, believed that some people have an unpleasant history, but that they deserved a second chance.

According to the judges, Wipas' Kon Krae truly shined among the other six finalists and won votes from all seven judges.

After the controversy, Wipas gave an interview and admitted his previous short story was inspired by the Peter Carey book, but he failed to refer to the Australian author in his book. However, he insists he didn't "copy" from Carey's work. In the academic world, plagiarism is rather easier to detect or investigate, but when it comes to the art scene, imitation could be seen as the highest form of flattery, as Madonna said during her concert in Atlanta when she dedicated a song to Lady Gaga.

I appreciate the reaction of the SEA Write committee that, at the end of the day, it is the value of the book that matters, and agree people deserve a second chance. But, artists should know that when there is "inspiration" involved, you must be prepared to defend yourself to the public.

Inspiration can be a tricky word, especially in the world wide web era where we can never underestimate the power of Google and the netizens. Causing buzz a few months ago was a Facebook group called Thailand Cop Talent ("cop" is Thai vernacular, short for "copy") where members post suspicious cases of copyright infringement to discuss.

One talk-of-the-town case was US-based Thai designer Nuj Novakhett and the special collection she designed for the 40th anniversary of local clothing brand Jaspal.

Nuj has recently been a rising Thai designer whose clients are among Hollywood stars and celebrities.

But shortly after her design for Jaspal was launched, an online article pointed out some of her designs from this collection were strikingly similar to dresses by NYC-based label Cushnie et Ochs that were released two years ago.

Images comparing the work of both designers were shared swiftly in the cyber world, and some of the designs are, to me, awfully similar. Nuj finally responded to Thailand Cop Talent's Facebook page that she did not copy this brand. Unfortunately, judging from what they saw, many were not on her side.

Last month Jaspal launched its new campaign "4 Decades" featuring international rock star Chulachak "Hugo" Chakrabongse. We have never heard any comments from the brand regarding this conflict, nor heard anything about Nuj and her collection again.

Being inspired by others is common among artists. There is nothing wrong in following the successful path others have paved for us.

As long as your artworks are in your own bedroom, no one will question your inspired work, but once you show it to the public as your own, play it safe and give credit. Unless, you can be sure that no one will ever find out.


Yanapon Musiket writes on art and entertainment for Life and has a monthly column, Queer Eye, dedicated to gay rights and gender diversity.

Yanapon Musiket

Life Writer

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