Robin Hood Syndrome

(Originally appeared as a comment in facebook.)

Ok, let me explain this here once and for all. Headcarf (“tudung”) cannot be patented, but a headscarf design can. Similarly, Disney cannot patent a mouse, but they can patent Mickey Mouse. Et cetera.

So, if you would like to produce a notebook with the famous mouse on the cover, go ahead and buy the patent from Disney, pay the royalty fee etc, follow the merchandising rules and sell many notebooks as you want. However, the intellectual property and copyright remains with Disney and you cannot use the rights to the patent that you have acquired for other uses unless you pay them all over again.

All owners of intellectual properties will face this problem — when their original idea and hardwork is copied/pirated by others. This is a universal problem, happens across all industries — even Apple vs Samsung  are in a constant tussle in the courts over patent issues (Apple won in some countries, Samsung won in the others etc). Copyright and intellectual property (“IP”) is the lifelong rights of the creator from the moment he/she creates it. Simply put, the moment you wrote that epic poem for the popular girl that you have been admiring from afar, the copyright and IP of that poem automatically belongs to you. Abu cannot simply copy that poem and give it to Siti — if he does that, he is infringing your rights and you can punch him.

Patent, on the other hand, is a legal process through a government authority or licence that confers the right or title for a set period, to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention (for extra points, read Sistem Paten di Malaysia right here). Patents have terms of protection. Once this period ends, anyone, including you, you, you and you, can use the patent freely as it becomes public domain. As long as it is not in public domain yet, if you so insist on using the patent, then pay the fees to the patent holder. If you insist on using it illegally, the fact is you are committing a crime, your merchandise can be confiscated and you can be prosecuted in the court of law.

Patenting is a business decision, and it is a smart, process-bound and a costly one.

But the point is this: original ideas/inventions have monetary value to it. Additionally, a brand will be hurt when imitations are sold — not just financially but also in terms of public perception. The Fareeda case is one example. They received many complaints about the poor quality of their products — when they investigated it was found that pirated products were flooding the market.  It is within their right to complain to KPDNKKK, and it is the authorities’ job to act on the matter. Legally, the authorities did the right thing. And it is not an easy matter to ascertain that a pirated product violates one’s patent as it is possible that other people have similar ideas when they are inventing something. So, an investigation has to be launched and the alleged pirated product is scrutinized. Once it is clear that the pirated product is indeed an imitation, only then the authorities could take the next step.

Now, about this Robin Hood Syndrome. The public outcry over the matter basically centers around one thing: that Fareeda’s original headscarves are too expensive, hence imitations should be allowed so that those who could not afford the original could still enjoy having a similar product at a lower price. Fareeda is seen as the cruel, arrogant oppressor, crushing the hoi polloi with its legal might and destroying the livelihood of all these poor people who are just trying to make a living selling imitation headscarves.

This is not a legal issue but a moral one. I’ll give you a simple example. If you, for whatever reason, cannot afford to buy an original Louis Vuitton handbag, but you really really want to own one, is it acceptable to buy an imitation? The answer is no. If you still want to buy an imitation, no one can stop you. But don’t try to moralize it and get irrationally upset when it is confiscated. Ask yourself, why do you go through all the trouble to buy an imitation at the first place? Is it because you wanted to be seen carrying a handbag with the LV logo? Functionally, a bag is a bag. A RM20 functions no differently than a RM20,000 one. So why do you buy a pirated LV? No matter how you spin it, Islamic or otherwise, the desire for material goods that drives you to buy or sell imitations/pirated products does not make a wrong a right. You pity the sellers of these imitations because you think they are deprived of an honest day’s work? Seriously, there is nothing honest about selling pirated goods.

On the added complaint that Fareeda headscarves are not Shariah-compliant; people, the pirated ones that are being sold along the pavements of Masjid Jamek are not Shariah-compliant either.

I don’t have any expertise or knowledge to be able to comment about this from a religious standpoint. But, this is not a religious issue, even if the piece of clothing in contention is worn within a religious context. Like I said, headscarves cannot be patented, but the design could be. So, if you copy, sew and then sell headscarves made using the patented design of someone else’s, legal action can be taken against you.

How to avoid this? There are two ways. 1. You buy the patent. 2. Sit in a dark room and brainstorm to come up with an original design and idea yourself.

From a business standpoint, to me this is a simple matter of protecting one’s business and one’s brand. Just like musicians who are unable to make a living these days because people simply download their songs illegally, eventually if we stop respecting intellectual property, originators will lose incentive to create and come up with new products and ideas. People will just sit around and wait for something new to come along, and then copy it, sell it cheaper and make money. So who is oppressing whom?

Stealing is stealing. Be it stealing an idea, a song or a headscarf design. If you guys are unhappy with this, you can go ahead and read Malaysia’s Copyrights Act 1987, then challenge it in the court of law and change it. I mean, come on, I feel like murdering people when they steal my ideas and pass them off as theirs at the office; can you imagine if someone openly imitates your goods and sells them for profit?

There are no Robin Hoods here. Just thieves. Plain as day.

If this incident makes you hate a certain brand or business owner and lead you to denounce and call those who are wearing said brand as pretentious and showy, ok, my question would be why do you care so much about what other people wear? You can wear whatever you want, so can they. Calm down. Have a cupcake.

And if you are the kind of people who say “Do yo think I could not afford this? I have money! I refuse to buy this  because <insert whatever justification that comes to your mind>, I’d rather use the money to do charity,”; then you need to sit down and think about why you say these things. Granstanding is just bragging in different clothes.

Bukankah itu juga sama seperti menunjuk-nunjuk?

That is all. Peace.


1 Comment

Filed under food for thought

One response to “Robin Hood Syndrome

  1. Me ha gustado tu texto. Hace al menos 6 meses que sufro lo mismo.
    Me he sentido identificada.

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