SpicyIP Trivia: When Nani Palkhivala was accused of plagiarism

imagesOur attention was recently brought to CA Vellalapatti Swaminathan Iyer’s rather fascinating article published on the ITAT (The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal Bar Association) website here, which is based on the Palkhivala plagiarism matter written about in Nani Palkhivala: Courtroom Genius (co-authored by Soli Sorabjee and Arvind Datar). The book itself, dedicated to revealing the daunting legend that Palkhivala was, contains within it never seen before plaint, written statement as well as judgement of the Madras High Court in the Sampath Iyengar v. Jamshed B. Kanga & Nani Palkhivala case.

CA Iyer has encapsulated this matter rather fantastically, tracing the basis for Sampath Iyengar’s allegations that led to the copyright battle that consequently ensued.

The success of the first edition of Sir Jamshedji B. Kanga and Palkhivala’s co-authored book, The Law and Practice of Income Tax in 1950 set off a copyright infringement case filed by the greatly venerated lawyer and author of the widely acclaimed disquisition, The Law of Income-tax, Sampath Iyengar, whose claim was that the book had content that had been plagiarised from his own treatise.

In their defence, Palkhivala pointed to the fact that Jamshedji Kanga commanded a very large income tax practice, and he himself had a flourishing practice, and that he had not only read just the head notes, but also the entire judgement text of each case mentioned in the book.

It appears that in the matter, Palkhivala examined himself as a witness and subjected himself to extensive cross examination. So brilliantly did he do this, that he found an admirer in Justice Panchapakesa Ayyar, who in his judgement stated that Palkhivala was “a competent and alert lawyer, who was thoroughly conversant with the income-tax law”, having “systematic arrangement, clear analysis, sound opinions, citations of cases for every point etc”.

CA Iyer writes that Iyengar’s argument that Palkhivala derived inspiration from Iyengar’s own book, and thereby infringing on his copyright, fell flat on its face, failing to impress the judge. The judge likened the claim to that of the idli-sambar vendor who, seeing an illiterate villager enjoying the aroma of the idli-sambar, demanded compensation. The wise King, who had to decide the dispute, ordered that in return for the aroma of the idli-sambar enjoyed by the villager, the vendor was to be given the opportunity to sniff the villager’s money and enjoy its aroma!”

Iyengar then put forth what he hoped would be the clincher in this courtroom drama, contending that the passages in Palkhivala’s book were similar sounding to those in his own. In this regard, CA Iyer mentions three of the passages that Iyengar claimed were allegedly lifted from his own book. The judge, while acknowledging that on first impression it did seem as though the passages had been copied, stated that the passages comprised only 2 and a half pages of the total 1000, and the similarities had much to do with the fact that content had been drawn from a common source – reported judgments.

At the very end of it all, Palkhivala did of course, emerge victorious. The judge, however, let Iyengar off easy, acknowledging that he had acted not with malicious intent, but on the basis of his honest belief that parts of his book had been plagiarised.

In all his humility, Palkhivala decided against pressing for costs, and accepted Re.1 as a token amount from the complainant, Iyengar – thus bringing to a not-so-dramatic close, the matter that had two of the country’s greatest legal luminaries going head to head.

Since we haven’t been unable to procure the actual judgement ourselves, if any of our readers manage to get their hands on it, please do write in!


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1 thought on “SpicyIP Trivia: When Nani Palkhivala was accused of plagiarism”

  1. Here at the University of Nairobi, Plagiarism and academic dishonesty can have some severe penalties and repercussions. Instructors are being taken for training every semester and they are being instructed to recommend: Redoing the assignment; Failing the assignment; Receiving a reduced grade in the course
    Failing the course with a grade of XF (indicates that course was failed due to academic dishonesty and student cannot graduate until they have it removed by going through remediation);Counseling or recommending remediation for the student; Dismissing the student from the University; Having a record that indicates you committed an act of academic dishonesty

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