Recently a blogger friend @Urdumom wrote an Eid message before turning into bed for the night. She woke up to what any content creator dreams of – her post had gone viral. There is happiness like no other to see your content been shared hundreds and thousands of time. But it came with a price.
Last year I have been the victim of the same and wrote this post which has been sitting in my drafts since then. With Urdu Mom’s message on social media where she was trying to explain to people what Intellectual Property Rights are, made me dig this up again. Unfortunately there is an ethical and moral vacuum in some parts of our society that makes it impossible for people to fathom and understand the Intellectual Property Rights even in the physical world, let alone the Internet space which is all intangible. As soon as anything goes viral, people want to bask in its glory, gain views and followers and hence steal it to make it look like their own. This is called Plagiarism.
What is Plagiarism?
In its most basic terms it is defined as “the act of copying the works of others and passing them off as your own.” In simple terms its stealing and a person who does it is basically a thief. Plagiarism violates the author’s right to the ownership of the work, which is a fundamental moral right.
So I decided to speak up, because as a writer/blogger I feel the social responsibility to do so!
Here is my story….
Last year, I wrote a post which went viral. It was shared million of times and almost broke my site with traffic.. I was super excited until I was informed by my followers about different people who have been sharing it as their own.. but what one very well known Pakistani magazine did, topped it all!
I couldn’t believe that some one who is in media and publishing would have NO ethics and morals. They not only shared my post without credit, they actually altered my images and changed my website address with their own.
They blatantly copied all the images and shared as their own on their Facebook page.
I tried contacting them in every possible way the whole day (Facebook, Email and Phone) and with no luck, and by evening I was banned from their FB page. The next day I called them again a couple of times and then finally got to speak with one of the Editors, who shamelessly accused me of being rude instead of accepting or even acknowledging the theft of my hard work.
Imagine you talk to the thief who stole your stuff, and the thief accuses you of being harsh! Ha – The irony! What else did she except me to do? Praise them for the absolutely flawless Photoshop skills of their graphic designer, who altered my watermark and replaced it with theirs?
Their blatant copying of my post became the talk of their own industry and was shared on multiple forums by their peers, where people discussed how this magazine has no soul and ethics. I was tagged on many such posts and I shared my experience with them, which got to them.
The next day, I get a message from the big boss of the magazine that he has discussed with his editorial team and would like to talk to me. I called him and I had the MOST unbelievable conversation of my life! At times, I was furious and at times I found myself laughing out loud at the absurdity of what I was hearing from a guy who has been running a publishing house for a decade!
This is how the conversation went:
Him: I am talking to you because I think somewhere “aap ke saath zydati huey hai” and that’s why I am talking to you, else I would not even talk to you.
Me (in utter disgust): Oh really?
Him: But see the problem is you are very rude and that’s why my team has been banging the phone on you.
Me: What did you except? I should have been polite and praise your designer’s photoshop skills.
Him: The thing is that our creative designer’s design and your design “matched’.
Me(in disbelief at what I just heard): Matched?? You mean copied?
Him: No matched.
Me (thinking why am I even talking to him): So, you mean to say, I posted something 24 hours before you and then 24 hours later, your graphic designer had the same revelation from the heavens above and not only did he use the same images, but the same design and the same font and the same everything??
Him: But those images are all not yours. I have a photographer who is claiming and suing me because they are his images. He uploaded those images 6 months ago on ‘Google’ and you have done theft of his images.
Me: I agree that all the images are not shot by me. 3 of them are my photography (including the cover, Qatar and Seychelles picture), while the others are from a website that provide ‘Royalty free images’ for free use. Ask that photographer to talk to me and I will tell him where I downloaded those images from and he can check why his images are on those Royalty Free Image website.
Him: The photographer doesn’t want to talk to you because you are so rude!
Me (Wow, so the photographer who is apparently suing you knows about my conversation with your editor? Lol): I am glad he is going to sue you. Serves you right!
Him: Chori aap karein aur phasein hum! All the information you have in the article is from Google, you don’t own it. And I have it on recording that it’s only the three images that are shot by you.
Me (appalled and disgusted at why am I even having this conversation!): Do you have any idea what Google is? Google is just a search engine, it pulls stuff from different websites. The website I took the images from provides images for FREE use. Even I as a blogger, keep copyright ethics in mind.
Secondly, for those 3 images, the picture holding the passport is MY hand and my son’s passport. And if it’s your own, can you provide a RAW image of only that photograph? Just ONE? It’s an Open challenge! You know I can and I can also provide the various retakes before I got that perfect shot! And can you tell me how did you change my watermark and put your watermark on them? You could have done your research, gathered images from ‘Google’ and published your own article. You should have done some hard work rather than just changing watermarks?
Him: Changing watermark is much harder work!
Me (What did he just say? He actually said that? And I start laughing!): Are you for REAL??
Him: I can offer you two things, we will take down the post and I can feature your blog in my print magazine to give you publicity.
Me (Aaahh, bribe): No, thank you. I do not want to be featured in your Third-Class magazine.
Him (furious now): You are now crossing the line!
Me (look who is talking): and you are going to tell me about what are morals and ethics and crossing of line? I don’t want cheap free publicity. I blog because it’s my passion, not for money. All I want is a public apology – that’s it. And now after 5 days of that post going viral, I don’t care if it’s there on your Facebook page or not, because my original post has done 20 times better than your copied one. So, you have not harmed me as much as you have harmed your own reputation!
Him: I have it all on recording that its only 3 images of yours and I am taking screen shots of how you are defaming our magazine and tagging us. I will file a law suit against you.
Me (Aaah, since bribe didn’t work, so now a threat): Please go ahead. I have nothing to do with you or your magazine!
As they say it in Urdu, “Aik to chori, upar se seena zori”.
I was left in utter disbelief and disgust! What was even more saddening, was that the conversation I had was with the person leading a magazine and a newspaper for 10 years and yet had no concept of what Copyright Infringement even means?
He must have thought, all of us bloggers seek publicity and that being printed in their magazine and getting publicity would make me shut up, but guess what? My parents raised me well! Even a small blogger like me has morals and ethics of what copyright infringement means. And that giving the photo credit to the photographer / image source doesn’t make me small in any way! And also, I have been approached by a few other Pakistani magazines who wanted to cover my story, but I don’t want free publicity from this issue and therefore I wanted to write it myself.
My elder brother told me you are fighting a lost battle and that don’t waste your time on it. Someone said this is “Pak Sar Zameen ka Nizam” but I wanted to highlight this issue. Because, someone needs to speak up and not all Pakistanis are the same!
I was approached by 4 different individuals (I don’t know them) who told me their stories of how their content was stolen by the same magazine and when they raised their voice, they were threatened or pressurized by their clients or their management to keep their mouth shut. Two of them were ex-employees of the magazine who left because of their unethical ways of doing business. One thing in common in all those messages was..
Don’t let them go so easy. You are an independent blogger and you can tell your story.
So, I felt all the more responsible as a Pakistani to speak up. Why I didn’t till now, because I didn’t want to write it in anger and then later forgot about it until it happened again with @UrduMom
Why does it happen?
One would think that this ignorance of Copyrights is because of the lack of education, but the irony is that both the editors of this well known magazine have a Master’s degree from reputable universities in Karachi. In-fact one of them is from the same university, me and my husband did Masters from, and I feel disgusted at this association.
As an alumnus of the University, as a Pakistani and as a mother, I feel worried about the future of our children and youth studying in Pakistan. They are earning all these fancy degrees but have no idea of basic morals and ethics because there is no accountability and enforcement of the Copyright Law.
The Cut-Copy-Paste culture is so common in our Education system that our students studying in reputed universities think it’s their birth right to copy and paste and submit their assignments. Though HEC has put into place a Plagiarism policy (http://hec.gov.pk/english/services/faculty/Documents/Plagiarism/Plagiarism%20Policy.pdf), but what is needed is to teach these students the fundamentals of ethics and morality, so they don’t go in the real world and bring shame to their families, universities and Pakistan! I feel there is a need of a mandatory course on Ethics, Morals and Copyright Laws in all our Under-Graduate programs!
Plagiarism or Copyright infringement is a serious offense elsewhere but in Pakistan it is something that is still an alien concept to some of us. What makes it even worse is that even big publishing houses are blatantly doing Copyright infringement with no accountability. These ‘so called’ journalists instead of using their power of pen, are just mocking the whole system by using the ‘cut copy paste’ and their ‘photoshop’ skills to make others work look as their own. It is quite a concerning situation!
What we as Social Media users can/should do?
What we need to do while using Social Media whether we are content creators or simply the consumers/readers…
P.S. Why I hid the identity of the magazine is because I am not trying to fight a battle here, but raise awareness of what is so lacking even in our so called educated class.