Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review : Fraudster by RV Raman

I wanted to read this novel mainly because of its blurb which promised a great corporate thriller. It goes -

Illicit finance, high stakes crime and vicious manipulation come together in this story of corruption, greed and treachery among corporate India's black sheep. Arresting, fast-paced and written by an insider from the corporate world, Fraudster will keep you on your toes till the very end.
The book completely fulfills the first promise but falls slightly short of the second one.

The plot is brilliantly crafted and really takes us deep into the murky world of modern banking and accounting.

The novel begins with a trio of seemingly unrelated deaths and a hacking attempt into the server of one of the biggest accounting firms, following which we find our lead characters trying to make sense of the events by connecting the dots. It is a race between the good guys (Varsha, an employee of the accounting firm and Ranade, the police officer) trying to protect sensitive data and the bad guys who try their damnest to keep the evidence of their fraudulent activities under wrap. Though the plot is intricate, the narrative moves rather simply from one situation to the next without many parallel events or storylines. Towards the end, there are many exciting elements including high speed car chases and kidnappings through which the reader is nudged towards red herrings which keep the reader distracted till the protagonists track down and reveal the real fraudster and killer.

The amazing part about the novel is its interesting plot and how complicated technical aspects are described in a simple manner. The narrative includes complex financial manipulation and tinkering with BlackBerrys as well as Microsoft Exchange Servers.

However, it is not tedious to go through these technical parts as it is all nicely woven into the storyline. The author's expertise with respect to the banking industry is apparent from his descriptions of banks' decision making processes and also from how realistic the story is.

The plot revolves around a scam relating to dubious corporate loans facilitated by corrupt bank practices and officers. When I was reading this novel, the leading news story in financial newspapers was about the arrest of SK Jain, Syndicate Bank CMD and also the role of brokers in bribery for loans scandal! Thus, 'Fraudster' is so realistic that might just be a true story!

Where this novel falters is on its promise to be arresting and fast paced. The novel begins rather slowly and it only picks up pace close to the halfway mark. There aren't any real parallel story lines and only a feeble attempt to show the villains' point of view which seems to have been abandoned after just one chapter. More finicky readers may not stick to it till they reach the point where the story picks up pace.

Furthermore, the characters aren't particularly memorable either. After going through more than 280 pages I cannot remember any of Varsha's traits or description other than her being a karate expert and having tomboyish short hair. Similarly, Ranade, is also a cop who is too simple and straight forward and who gets his way almost always with their being only a passing reference to possibility of political interference with police work right at the end.

The cover of this book though seems to have been heavily influenced by Ravi Subramanium's two previous books, (Bankster and Bankerupt) both of which have a similar cover of a silhouette against the backdrop of a skyline. Though both authors cater to a similar audience, the nearly identical cover (be it intentional or not) seems like a cheap ploy to get the other's readers and does a disservice to Raman's writing which is good enough to sell copies on its own merit.

So though I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, I felt that it had the potential to be much superior. Better characterisation coupled with some cliffhangers and probably some more narration from the villain's point of view would have made this novel perfect!

RK Raman definitely could be the best corporate thriller writer in India and with his banking insights, he might give Ravi Subramanium a run for his money! I hope just like Ravi Subramanium, his novels become better and better. I hope he writes many more thrillers and am already looking forward to his next novel! You can follow him on twitter here.

Rating : 6/10

You can buy 'Fraudster' at a discounted rate on Flipkart.com!

Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Hachette India.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monkey selfie! Does the monkey own the copyright to it? An Indian perspective…

David Slater, a British wildlife photographer visited a park in Indonesia in 2011. At the park, a crested black macaque got its hands on one of his cameras and took several selfies, including the one accompanying this blogpost. Slater is reported to have said said “They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button, … The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back - it was amazing to watch.”

The selfie accompanying this post has become a point of dispute between the Wikimedia Foundation and David Slater since Wikimedia refused to take the image down and has deemed it to be in public domain by displaying the following notice -

This file is in the public domain because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.”

Contrary to what some news outlets have tried to suggest, even the Wikimedia foundation never really suggested that the copyright belongs to the monkey legally. That was just bad reporting and clickbait headlines on part of Times of India.

Indian Position

I am not very well read on Copyright Law but a cursory reading of the Indian law on the subject i.e. Copyright Act, 1957 seems to suggest that Wikimedia would be right even if all the events had taken place here.

Section 2(d)(iv) read with section 17 makes it clear that the person clicking a photograph is its author and the owner of the copyright so long as the photograph is not clicked as another person’s employee or upon being commissioned by another to click it. The relevant sections are as follows (underline added for emphasis) --

2. (d)(iv) “Author” means -- in relation to a photograph, the person taking the photograph;

17. First owner of copyright.-Subject to the provisions of this Act, the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright therein.
Provided that-
(a) in the case of a literary, dramatic or artistic work made by the author in the course of his employment by the proprietor of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical under a contract of service or apprenticeship, for the purpose of publication in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, the said proprietor shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright in the work in so far as the copyright relates to the publication of the work in any newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, or to the reproduction of the work for the purpose of its being so published, but in all other respects the author shall be the first owner of the copyright in the work;
(b) subject to the provisions of clause (a), in the case of a photograph taken, or a painting or portrait drawn, or an engraving or a cinematograph film made,
for valuable consideration at the instance of
any person, such person shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright therein.


Since, by no means can it be proved that the monkey was an employee or a person acting for valuable consideration, it is quite clear that under the Indian law as well, Mr. Slater would not be the owner of the copyright despite the camera being his. Thus the wikimedia stance seems sound even when tested on Indian Copyright law.


Does the copyright belong to the Monkey? Is it a ‘Person’?

Now that we established that the copyright will not belong to Mr. Slater, the obvious question that next arises is whether or not the Monkey shall then be the owner of the copyright. As per sections 2 and 17 the would be the author of the photo and the first owner of the copyright, but only if it can be established that the monkey is a ‘person’. Since the word person is not defined under Copyright Act, 1957 we shall have to look into the General Clauses Act, 1897. It states -

"Person" shall include any company or association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not…

While a simple reading of this would suggest that a Monkey is not defined to be a person, it could be argued that the definition, the way in which is worded only clarifies that in addition to the usual or other meanings conveyed by the word ‘person’, it would also include companies, association of persons etc. The definition does not bar a monkey from being defined as a person at all, though for all practical purposes I think no court would be ready to entertain a claim that ‘person’ includes Monkey.


Can Monkeys be non-human persons?

Though I say it is unlikely to succeed, I would love to see someone try argue that monkeys are ‘persons’ and  capable of owning copyright. I think one would almost certainly have to rely on a policy statement from Ministry of Environment and Forests which suggests that animals such as Dolphins may have rights. The statement was issued when the government banned dolphins from circuses or marine park shows. While by no means does a mere statement have the force or weight of law, it could be argued that both dolphins as well as apes or monkeys should be termed as ‘intelligent nonhuman persons’ having some rights though not all.

The ministry is reported to have stated -

Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behaviour have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose,” the ministry said. <Link><Link>


State as a guardian?

If monkeys or other animals could actually be proved to be ‘persons’ eligible of owning copyright, the next question that would arise would be how would they enforce it in courts or what would they do with their revenue gained through licensing if any. One possible model that could infact work would be with the entire animal kingdom considered to be one large association of non human persons with all the copyrights of selfie clicking animals accruing to it. The state could then be the guardian of this entity and incharge of licensing the images. The funds raised through licensing could be collected in a special fund on animal welfare… The existence of such a model could also possibly extend its own scope to include animal sound recordings apart from selfies!

Note: The copyright of the image used on this page either belongs to Mr. Slater or the monkey or the image is in public domain. It certainly doesn’t belong to me. I believe my usage of the image is permitted under section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957 as fair dealing for the reporting of current events.


That is all from my end. What do you think about the monkey selfie?

Do you think Mr. Slater owns the copyright or the monkey?

Or do you think differently and believe that the rights of humans who take selfies should be stripped of their human rights?

Do comment below and let me know!