Plagiarism and copy-paste creativity in advertising – copywriter in Dubai, UAE, continues the discussion on ethics in advertising

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We the creative people in advertising – the creative directors, copywriters, art directors, graphic designers – take great pride in producing original ideas. At least that’s what we claim.

Then we see from amongst us, creatives being caught for copying not just a treatment or idea but entire sentences, phrases, tag lines, layouts with the fonts and visuals. I have even received emails from you, dear readers, alerting me to plagiarised ads. (An ad-blogging friend had sent me a copy of an ad he felt was a rip-off which he couldn’t put on his blog because they were also working for that client.)

The lack of self respect when one simply lifts someone else’s concept and execution is one of the reasons why we the advertising people have earned ourselves the notoriety of being in one of the least respected professions in the world. We have brought this upon us. (That email forward about “Don’t tell my mom I work in advertising…” comes to mind.)

Some of us just can’t help lifting stuff from advertising awards books. I have seen it happening so much, it has almost become an industry norm. Sad.

I remember one creative who kept the awards book he copied from, safely tucked in his drawer. So that no one will ever know where his ‘inspiration’ came from. His best idea was traced back to that book in his drawer.

Perhaps it’s the pressure of winning awards. Perhaps it’s the lack of confidence in some people about creating something world class with their own mind. It’s not what one would expect from an industry like ours, bursting at the seams with highly talented people. We have some of the brightest minds in business in the ad agency cubicles, halls, water cooler areas.

Call me a dreamer, but I am sure many of us in advertising believe that we don’t have to copy things from awards books and other people’s portfolios and websites. Yes, ideas are everywhere. But taking someone’s layout and copy?

And people who get into the habit of copy-paste don’t just stop at ad layouts. I recently came across a profile of an ad man that reads just like mine with exact phrases from my profile, on the same online network, in my own city!

I am reproducing a few of the many, many ‘coincidences’ I found below in this person’s profile:

My network profile: (Wants) partnerships for projects across the globe
Copy-paste profile: (Wants) Partnerships for projects across the globe

My network profile: campaigns for TV, radio, press, magazines, outdoor, direct marketing and the internet
Copy-paste profile: campaigns for TV, radio, press, magazines, outdoor, direct marketing and the internet

My network profile: worked on some of the hottest brands in the world
Copy-paste profile: worked for some of the hottest brands and companies in the world

I could have provided you a link to our friend’s profile – but then this post isn’t about any particular person. However, if you want to hire a ‘global creative director’ who’s good at copying and pasting things, email me and I might just give you the link.

Anyway, this post is about an unethical and unflattering practice that I feel does disservice to our advertising profession. It’s about two buttons on our keyboard – ‘Ctrl’ and ‘C’. Let’s not use them too much.

In the coming days, I plan to have a few more posts on copy-paste creativity in the world of advertising because discussion on this is relevant and needed, specially in the time of the internet which makes plagiarism easy to do. But then, it has also become easier to track. Thank you, Google.

Take the case of this blog as an example – I caught someone copying content from my blog, from as far as Russia, and pasting it as his own writing. Such a content-scraper can be easily banned from their web host on charges of copyright violation and breach of TOS. (Quoting from this blog, as this blog’s copyright notice says, is fine as long as the quote is attributed and linked back to my blog as the source.)  I believe in open source and information sharing but am strongly against plagiarism and credit-stealing.

What is your verdict, dear readers?

When does inspiration or benchmarking become plagiarism?

Have you met friends in the profession who feel it’s cool to copy as long as one doesn’t get caught?

Have your ideas and ads been lifted by other creatives who don’t have what it takes but are faking it?

If you are a brand manager or marketer, would you hire a self-professed ‘global creative director’ who’s been caught stealing ideas from others and passing them as his own?

Comments are open… I don’t fancy anonymous ones though.

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37 Comments

  1. pradeep

     /  January 15, 2008

    Hi everyone!

    I am a graphic designer in publishing. and very keen in creative writing… but dont know where to strart from. Is there someone who can enlighten me with his/her ideas and experience.

    thanks

    Reply
    • Farrukh Naeem

       /  January 20, 2012

      Start off by writing. Like you just did. How about a blog maybe?

      Reply
  2. Welcome Ramesh – thanks for adding me to your mail list. Does that mean I will get regular mails from you… LOL.

    I visited your blog – I love it – useful and thorough.

    Looks like you’re in Abu Dhabi. Let ‘s meet for a TQC sometime – Total Quality Coffee 😉

    farrukh

    Reply
  3. Hello Farrukh,

    I happened to visit your blog and found it interesting. I have added you to my mail list and invite you to visit my blog.

    Best regards,

    Ramesh Menon

    Reply
  4. Hi CandyShopGirl,

    What about Tokio Hotel?

    farrukh

    Reply
  5. CandyShopGirl

     /  October 9, 2007

    Hola!

    What do you think about Tokio Hotel? >:)

    Reply
  6. Thanks for your support Fazila. As you know, we in the ad business are accustomed to judgement of our art, writing, ideas, concepts on a daily basis. As Tom Peters would say – we thrive on chaos. So, no harm done by any criticism. Some of it can be constructive and like you said, some of it is just plain troll behaviour.

    Life goes on 🙂

    farrukh

    Reply
  7. fazila sciberras

     /  September 1, 2007

    Dear Farrukh,

    I agree with your sentiments.

    Gone are the days were people could defame and not be charged guilty. Under International Law this is puerile and so damaging, but hold on, they are only trying to break you down as they are jealous.

    I usually look at such traits and put them in the dustbin which is the best place for such a kind of attitude and persona.

    Keep going in the right direction Farrukh. I admire you.

    Kind regards,
    Fazila

    Reply
  8. Dear ‘anonymous one’ – what’s unimpressive is your lack of courage to put your name or email on your dissing comment. Of course, I have tracked your IP and know where you’re from – not impressed.

    Given a choice, I’d rather write my own stuff than try to impress others with plagiarised material or anonymous comments that aren’t even spelt right.

    As for the quality of my writing, the global brands I have written for in the past 10 years and the readership of this blog might give you a fair idea of where it stands.

    farrukh

    Reply
  9. Thanks for the kind words, Fazila.

    Reply
  10. anonymous one

     /  July 25, 2007

    You are such an unimpressive writer pal. How about improving that first. Don’t believe me? just read that articel out aloud.

    Reply
  11. fazila sciberras

     /  June 26, 2007

    Dear Farrukh,

    We are almost there referring to the simple values in life. At present it is referred to Fundamental Rights.

    This is a very simple and basic value which is recognised by far more than you will believe so. I am happy for this.

    Take good care and let’s keep in touch.

    Your thoughts are tremendous.

    Kindest regards,
    Fazila

    Reply
  12. Fazila – welcome back.

    Like you, I wish that we could go back to the simple values of life. Humility, kindness, generosity. It’s all there but I would like to see it reflected more in our ads.

    Yes, I believe in the goodness inside everyone.

    It’s always good to have your insights, Fazila.

    farrukh

    Reply
  13. Fazila Sciberras

     /  June 21, 2007

    Dear Farrukh,

    I have just returned from the 2007 Women’s Summit in Berlin. I did not attend as a feminist but so see what exactly is happening in the World today.

    It is quite saddening as it has gone Full Tilt to an extreme and it all boils down to who knows who and who holds the biggest wallet regardless of who and what he/she/they stand for.

    Life should not be like this and it is simplicity and honesty which go a long way.

    Our parents and grandparents were not like this who spoke the simplest philosophies and let the healthiest lives, so why this daily war I ask?

    Human values still exist. I am a firm believer in this and I am sure you are too.

    Basic primal instincts will eventually take over and it will be nice in our own lifetime if we saw this happen.

    Take good care.

    Kindest regards,
    Fazila

    Reply
  14. Welcome AbdulJalil,
    Yeah – you’re right. An idea can strike anyone, anywhere.
    Whoever manages to sell it first, gets his/her name in the credit line 🙂
    farrukh

    Reply
  15. Welcome Walter,

    Thanks for your insights. You have touched upon the issue on many fronts.

    That’s interesting – the thought of an online blacklist. I have seen many who have a clear pattern of stealing ideas. They do it so much, it gets easier to catch them red-handed 🙂

    farrukh

    Reply
  16. Hi Farrukh,

    Great thought-provoking article. Unfortunately, in this day and age, information overload and easier access to the internet plagiarism is all around us.

    Also, we cannot continue to invent new ideas, sayings and pay-off lines without a certain amount of commonality. Similar ideas are not easily proven. Many people in the world have similar thoughts but I do agree that if one has stolen a punchline or phrase, there should be a source.

    Great ideas are thought up in agency meetings, that there is no doubt. Unfortunately the advertising industry has high staff turnover and unscrupulous employees who are out for self gain to add to their portfolio.

    It’s not easy to prove plagiarism all the time but if there is ‘black list’ dossier built up for such cowardly acts, then maybe, they can be pasted on the ‘net. Just a thought.

    Reply
  17. It can be happen anytime, anywhere. I personally have done many creative projects for different clients that were rejected or not published. After a while the same execution has been published for another company and done by a different agency.
    I think what we can do to avoid this is to work hard and sell the idea before it moves to another mind.
    Never know, creative ideas nowadays are just like viruses, so you have to take care and do not let your virus affect the others and move to them.
    Am I right, Farrukh?

    Reply
  18. Hi Nelly,
    I’m shocked and saddened to know how long the tentacles of plagiarism are. Thanks for adding more angles to the discussion.
    I think your idea of an NDA is an excellent thing to start with.
    Also, perhaps some high profile cases of people and companies being caught and punished for copyright infringement will send out a signal to those who have developed a habit of stealing people’s ideas.
    farrukh

    Reply
  19. Hello everyone!
    Looks like it’s really a hot topic and hits the nerve of many creative professionals. I feel the intellectual property law & regulations in this country are not as strong as else where in the world, making the copy-paste attitude even more popular.
    Farouk, may be you can share with us how creative people & companies can protect their/his/her intellectual assets as per UAE law.
    It could be easy to protect your text, but how would you protect your IDEAS?
    Not to mention any names here, I have seen IDEAS & CONCEPTS being stolen by corporates in various industries starting with events…… even architectural designs.
    As the person promoting WIN-WIN online business networking and nurturing business relationships, I would suggest taking preventive action. Getting an NDA signed before submitting a project/idea/business concept, finding out more about the legal regulations, which can help you to protect your intellectual property.
    Regards,
    Nelly

    Reply
  20. Dear Nabila,
    Dubai Writers Group used to be on Meetup.com which is currently not accessible in the UAE. Adnan has I think a couple of sites/blogs, one of which he has linked to above in his comment (click on his name).
    Also, I manage the Dubai chapter of Caferati, a writer’s forum with more than 2500 members worldwide. You are most welcome to join it at http://groups.google.com/group/caferati-dubai
    farrukh

    Reply
  21. Dear Farrukh,

    I am quite enjoying the comments on this topic and constantly keeping up with it. I just read your comment about Adnan which says he is the organizer of Dubai Writer’s Group. I would like to know more about his group. Can you please let me know if he has a website?

    Regards

    Nabila Usman

    Reply
  22. Welcome Maya – how’re you doing. Good to have the hot blogger back.

    Citation is of course not plagiarism. Because you are not attributing it to yourself as a journalist.

    “There is nothing new under the sun…” your professor said. With all due respect to the teacher, I don’t think this is the kind of outlook a young person needs to hear from a teacher whose role is also to inspire a child.

    Perhaps the reason why many of the creative legends in the world never succeeded in school. They were busy doing things that hadn’t been done before. New things under the sun.

    farrukh

    Reply
  23. farrukh, yes, i have in my copy paste journalism done a lot of it:-) but i hav credited it rightly to the agencies i copied from.
    but then, i knw of great people who think they are great by writing poetry in english which are abso word to word translations from regional languages. and my parting shot is what my professor told me when i cribbed that someone stole my idea i quote ” there is nothing new under the sun, child, and u cannot tell another mind to travel the same way as ur’s…

    Reply
  24. Welcome Adnan,

    Thanks for your comment and tip. Naming and shaming is one of the strategies used to deal with such people. I almost did it with the guy who (still) has phrases stolen from my profile on his page.

    But then, my heart melts at the thought of people searching for this ‘global creative director’ and landing up first on my page (thanks to my SEO skills) which talks about his copy-paste abilities. But if the copying continues, I’ll do the title-tag honour for the copycat 😉

    [Dear readers – Adnan is my guide when it comes to blogging. He is one of few professional bloggers in the UAE who’s earning with his blogging. I followed Adnan’s advice when choosing a blogging platform and domain name provider. Adnan is also the organiser of the Dubai Writers Group.]

    farrukh

    Reply
  25. Once upon a time some guy stole my entire website and paraded it as his own. He made the error of putting up his real photo, so all i did was setup a page were i wrote about how he stole my stuff, wrote his real name onto the title of the page and added his images and let google add it to its search engine.

    So, whenever someone who knew would search for him, they would find him. It worked. Someone recognized him and I got his address. 😀

    Reply
  26. Hi Aastha,

    Bravo! I admire your candid and straighforward comment. We all face such situations, specially so in advertising where everything is wanted yesterday.

    All art is a depiction or reflection of our environment – so ideas beget ideas. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion. But taking things as they are, verbatim, ipso facto, and claiming it as one’s own – that’s an ethical issue.

    Many people in advertising think ethical advertising is an oxymoron. I beg to differ. Advertising is as good or bad as we choose to make it, as practitioners, at the risk of sounding preachy.

    I like the phrase ‘grey zone’. Indeed it is. Very little in life is black and white.

    farrukh

    Reply
  27. Aastha

     /  June 10, 2007

    Hi Farrukh,
    I don’t have much experience of my ideas being copied, but I do admit to being in some kind of a grey zone sometimes, for class projects and all I sometimes take ‘inspiration’ from something I might have seen somewhere. If I do something similar does it mean I am copying? If an idea comes to me after seeing somebody else’s work, does it mean that it is not an original thought? This is the kind of grey zone that I am talking about. I have had the experience where I wanted to get a project done in time and so didn’t stop to think of more ideas or couldn’t get another idea as good as that one… it is not so much of an ethical dilemma to me as it must be to advertising professionals who have to deal with such situations everyday, but I still wanted to say it…

    Reply
  28. Usama,

    Thanks for adding the client perspective. There are times when we in the advertising agency see clients insisting on duplicating what their competitor is doing, to the word.

    It is true that clients usually will not have the resources to spot a rip-off ad or concept. An association or forum of ad professionals or an advertising standards council would be better equipped to address the issue of plagiarism.

    farrukh

    Reply
  29. Welcome Zeid,

    Good to touch base with you again after meeting in the Dubai Lynx days. Thanks for featuring this post on your site’s home page – I appreciate it. You’re a good friend!

    I agree with you, much content on your blog is via other blogs and a lot of it is ad showcase, so you must surely be seeing a lot of ‘similarities’ day after day.

    My journalistic instinct says that you might want to reconsider the title you have given to the excerpt (Plagiarism in the Middle East on the rise). My post does not refer to the ‘Middle East’ but to the ad industry in general.

    It is so interesting that this post on copy-paste gets copied and pasted, with due credit of course. I’m flattered 😉

    farrukh

    Reply
  30. Usama Zafar - Marketing & Copywriting pro

     /  June 10, 2007

    I recently heard of a network admin who was hired as COPYWRITER at a blue chip ad agency through someone he met at a school reunion. When such criterias are used, you will have ppl copy pasting other ppl’s work (IT ppl are smart at the internet you see). It would’ve been half decent if the agency in question churned out better ads than what they are doing now.
    From the client’s side (which is where I am right now), very less thought is given to originality as most marketers are worried about ROI rather than creativity. And quite frankly, its really is not the client’s area of expertise to judge. So I guess agencies (or maybe the IAA?) need to play a proactive role here.

    Reply
  31. Hello Farrukh … nice piece, good topic which I see everyday on AdBlogArabia and mediaMEmediaME.

    I’ve featured excerpts of it as a main story on mediaME, linked to your site of course to avoid plagirism 🙂

    Reply
  32. Welcome Fazila,
    Your opinion is much valued as you have had the privilege to work with some of the top creative directors in business.
    While on a personal level, one could brush this off, but plagiarism is not a good reflection of the self-respect of the creatives who do it, the ethics of the agency which lets it pass, and most importantly, our ad industry in places where no steps are taken to address this issue.
    The least we could do is regularly publish work that is too similar side by side and let the audience decide whether it is inspired or stolen. Over a period of time, we’d be able to separate real talent from the imposters.
    You are right about not letting this taking a toll on us – to carry on producing great ideas and be positive. Completely agree with you.
    Do keep visiting when you have time – wish you the best of luck in your new ventures, and warmest wishes to your near and dear ones.
    farrukh

    Reply
  33. Welcome Nabila – thanks for your inputs.
    Yes, there is this type of credit stealer who disses someone’s idea in one meeting and presents it as their own in the next one. Even slimier is another variety of idea-stealers who will wait for you to give your best idea and will then follow it up by the phrase “that is what I was saying…”.
    I once worked with a creative director who would keep asking people questions till someone came up with a good idea. Then he would quickly add his famous phrase “That is what I was saying”.
    Yes, you guessed it… it was the same guy who used to keep his cheat book in his drawer 😉
    About the Nescafe ad – I had received it from one of the readers of this blog who wanted me to publish it but without citing the source. If it was meant to be a spoof ad, I wouldn’t call it plagiarism. The creators and client would be able to tell us the real story. I would be happy to publish it if they do decide to explain how/why it all happened.
    farrukh

    Reply
  34. fazila sciberras

     /  June 9, 2007

    Dear Farrukh,
    It is wonderful to see/read your mind and thoughs.
    I have ‘been robbed’: like you.
    It is fine, for the recipient and it is nice if they feel good.
    Do not lose/harbour bad energy.
    I just smile, wave and walk away and most of all – keep my own faith which is simple.

    Your beliefs (I feel) are the same as mine.

    Take good care of You and your loved ones.

    With kindest regards,
    Fazila Sciberras

    Reply
  35. Oh and by the way I am sure a lot of people around must have seen the latest copy cat act from FP7 Dubai when they did their recent campaign for NESCAFE. The ad was a copy of an old ad of The Economist done by an ad agency based in London. The ad read, “I don’t read Economist – Management Trainee Age 42” and the copied version read, “I don’t drink Nescafe – Management Trainee Age 42”. For God sake, they could have at least changed the background color and the age of management trainee. The latest issue of Communicate (June 07 first week) recently published these ads.

    Reply
  36. Its a great topic which you have brought up Farrukh. Well recently my idea was not stolen in terms of writing, but the theft was related to it. I had suggested my team leader to secure sponsorship and get reign on financial aspects of the core team for one of our project which involves creative writing. Well the great copy cat of the team rejected my idea outright with full force and in accusive fashion. Guess what, when I was absent from the next meeting, these same ideas covered with a little gloss and were presented and ACCEPTED!!!! How unfair and the next thing is that I realize a letter of apology from the copy cat for doing so. Therefore clearing itself from all corners. I really didn’t know how to deal with this person expect by coming up with newer ideas for the whole team but I was not so enthusiastic this time.

    Reply

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