Karachi is slowly recovering its status of a hub of cultural activities, despite the countrywide wave of terror which keeps the city on edge. The theatre has been revived, new cinemas are opening, art exhibitions and fashion weeks are held every now and then, as are literary and other festivals. But none of this has produced a change of thinking among our educated people in terms of persuading them that the internationally protected intellectual property rights deserve respect and protection in Pakistan.
One glaring, and current, example of violations of intellectual property rights in Pakistan is the production of Bombay Dreams, which is being staged at the Arts Council Theatre in Karachi until Feb 20. Shah Sharabeel is a famous theatre director who brought us Moulin Rouge last year for a successful round of houseful entertainment for four weeks under the auspices of Centre Stage Productions, sponsored by a private cellular company with a contribution of millions of rupees. But this time around, he went one step ahead in advertising and launching Bombay Dreams: presenting himself as its director and the Oscar-winning A R Rahman its composer.
Bombay Dreams was basically a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had based it on a book by Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan. A R Rehman composed its music and Don Black penned the lyrics. The first production of Bombay Dreams opened in 2002 in London, and later it became a Broadway success.
However, people were misled into believing that Mr Sharabeel had managed to have A R Rehman on board for the score of his adaptation of the play. According to media reports, he has now admitted he did not have the permission of either A R Rehman or the Really Useful Group (Rug), which has the copyright of Bombay Dreams.
Sharabeel is on record saying: “Pakistan is a Third World country, probably like Uganda, to A R Rahman. Why would he even care that he is being given credit or not?” Obviously, why would A R Rehman care! But Shah Sharabeel should have cared, that he was not plagiarising something, using A R Rehman’s global celebrity status to his own advantage. But Rug official Jo Preston does seem to care, and has been reported to be initiating legal proceedings against Centre Stage Productions
All of this is taking place despite the fact that Pakistan is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which requires that governments take measures against violations of intellectual property rights. It is not enough for a country to have intellectual property laws on its statute books. They have to be enforced to protect artistes and other creative persons worldwide from piracy and unauthorised use of their artistic creations.
The World Trade Organisation requires that its members ensure protection of copyrights and act against those guilty of violating them. The WTO has in place the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Part 3 of the agreement states: “Governments have to ensure that intellectual property rights can be enforced under their laws, and that the penalties for infringement are tough enough to deter further violations.”
Regardless of the probable penalties of such violations, Shah Sharabeel continues to stage the production as his own. This is also evidence of what respect the famous director accords to the laws of the country he lives in. Meanwhile, the Intellectual Property Organisation of Pakistan and other officials concerned, from the censors to the taxation department, have apparently turned a blind eye to this piracy. This does not reflect well on the culture of the cultured in our country.