Let me tell you, you don’t want to be a blogger who is being sued - twice - for defamation.
Since the lawsuits are ongoing, I am not at liberty to speak about them, let me just say they involve issues of me finding ads which were - according to my informed judgment - plagiarized considering my blog revolves around media in Lebanon.
Interestingly, bloggers who are sued go to a special branch in the Internal Security Forces, the same one that has to do with hacking, electronic spying and what-not. When I was there - and this not an experience for the faint of heart - the first question I was asked, and I am translating verbatim: “Who the hell allowed you to give your opinion?”
You might ask what's the big deal with plagiarism? Lebanese buy copies of films for a buck from street vendors, we buy counterfeit Chanel straight from those cash-on-delivery Instagram accounts, and the list continues. Well, considering we do not produce cars, planes, or other assets, you might want to reconsider that Lebanon’s major export is “ideas”: And when you steal ideas, you are cheapening the whole value of the country at large. Lebanese people who propagated ideas are numerous: from Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbah to Gibran Khalil Gibran to Tony Fadell who came up with the idea of the iPod.
Recently, a publication in Lebanon revealed a local copycatted ad which won an international festival and displayed it with the original side by side, which was done in Turkey a few years back. The agency that did the ad was so furious it decided it would no longer buy ad space or give exclusive and privileged information from the said media that exposed that the ad was a copycat. It is to note, that the same agency sent me 23 hate mails in one day and posted them publicly on the comment section of my blog when, in 2011, I too unmasked one of their copycats.
Actually, quite recently, there was an ad whose concept/copy was plagiarized (copied word for work in terms of copy/concept), and the person who did the ad himself knew who copied it but refused to confront him because he was his “friend”. Well, my friends do not steal from me, so not sure what kind of friendship that is.
Just to be clear: Agency heads whom I know personally, practically beg me to post ads that they think were plagiarized from their own company’s work on my blog. But none are ready to go on record and reclaim their moral and legal rights. One such person told me recently, “it falls on specialized media and bloggers like you to expose plagiarism” - to which I replied, “so in case I lose my lawsuits I will pay a fine because I stood up for your rights, you’ll have nothing to do with the payment?”
As a matter of fact, here’s a question: Suppose a student gets his work plagiarized, which believe it or not, happens more often than you think, who is supposed to legally report this? Universities who own the copyright to the project will not bother to sue so as not to sour their relations to companies. Or, suppose it happens among agencies, and just like the example above the person does not stand up for their legal right. What happens if someone like me reports it instead on my blog?
All these questions stem from the fact that the legal boundaries are murky. Take the example of the girl whose graduation project in advertising was copied by a multinational agency in Lebanon before she managed to present it. When the jury saw it, with the campaign already on the streets, they thought it was her who was the one who was guilty of the ethical breach.
What about the international clothing campaign which was copied for a Lebanese jeans brand? I asked the person who did it locally: “where did you get the inspiration for such a creative ad?” knowing full-well the original, and he straight-faced lied while answering. Another person I confronted about their ads looking like two drops of water as an international campaign came up with the meager excuse “no these are two different ads, in my campaign the woman puts something on the floor, in the other one she lifts it”.
Naturally, you will tell me, “what about organizing bodies of the industry?”. Yes, what about organizing bodies of the industry? They too say they got nothing to do with it, I kid you not. “We have no executive power,” a high ranking member said in one of them. So let me understand again:
Students whose ads are stolen cannot get their rights back.
Agencies whose ads are stolen do not want to confront those who plagiarized them in order not to ruffle feathers.
Organizing bodies in the industry have no executive power.
Specialized media see agencies boycott them when they report plagiarism.
Bloggers get sued for defamation when reporting plagiarism.
Anyone sees a pattern here?
There seems to be no legal reference to report a theft of intellectual property rights.
Perhaps I should go back to the question: “Who the hell allowed me to give my opinion?”
Tarek Joseph Chemaly is a communication consultant (advertising and marketing) and university lecturer, he is also a blogger, online publisher, and multimedia artist. He currently runs his popular media-critique and pop culture blog and his namesake publishing house (online and not for profit). His work can be found on www.tarekchemaly.com