The Mystery of the Original Idea


Helen Keller, at the age of 12, was accused of plagiarizing Margaret Canby's The Frost Fairies. Helen had offered her own story, The Frost King as a gift to Perkins Institute director, Michael Anagnos. His public appreciation of the work back fired when the similarity was discovered.

Jury: My child, this is a copy!
Helen Keller: But…but…I never realized…that story must have inspired me without me realizing it!
Public: Sniff! Stop this…she’s a child!
Jury: We’ll have to grill her before we leave her!

Mark Twain: All human utterances are plagiarism! All ideas are second hand! Let her go!


Romance novelist, Barbara Taylor Bradford sued Sahara Entertainment Media for infringement of copyright. She said that the plot and characters in the latter's 260 episode soap opera, Karishma -A Miracle of Destiny was similar to those in her book A Woman of Substance.

Bradford: No more Karishma for Sahara! It's a serial with no substance!
Sahara: Ridiculous! We just thought alike!
The Kolkata High Court: No copyright infringement! The Copyright law does not protect the theme of a book, an idea and basic plots!
The Supreme Court: Ditto!


Can an idea be copyrighted? An idea or theme cannot be copyrighted. Only the expression of an idea through an "original" work can be copyrighted.

Do you require permission to use similar/ stock characters and plot in a play? No permission is required to use stock/ similar characters and plots.

Spotlight on Theatre:

Can we be free of the influences of Bhasa, Shakespeare, Tagore, Beckett, Tendulkar, Ionesco or even our own contemporaries? While plots and characters may belong to the commons, what differentiates one playwright's work from another's is the construction and design of the play. This may rely on original scenes, their inventive structuring and ordering as well as characteristic turn of phrase. While sitting down to pen a play, write with complete freedom. But when reading the finished draft be objective and spot inadvertent references to another's work.

Best Practices or Quick, Tell Me How to Avoid Conflict!

Be conscious of our indebtedness to stories and information that have cradled and influenced us. Do not use phrases that may be particular to a certain work of an author. Be aware that the tables could be turned when you sue someone for infringement. Is it a substantial copy of the original work?


Kolkata High Court -Barbara Taylor Bradford vs. Sahara Media Entertainment Ltd. To read the full text of the above judgement follow the link.

Also read Section 13 of the Copyright Act, 1957