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Inspiration or Imitation? You decide! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Inspiration or Imitation? You decide!

Inspiration or Imitation? You decide!

Inspiration or Imitation? You decide!

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – The plagiarism dilemma of the Saudi cartoonists has finally come to an end. Cartoonists Ali Al-Ghamdi and Yazeed from the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, Rabee from Riyadh newspaper and Basuid from Akadth newspaper all copied their drawings from American and European press. The episode was subject to a lot of controversy on various websites and forums with many making full use of the opportunity by mocking the local press and the cartoonists themselves. Some were happy just to laugh at the situation and others exclaimed that this kind of incident is inevitable, however many others demanded that there be more observation of items and coverage as there maybe more unknown cases of plagiarism.

The chief of the board of directors and vice editor in chief of Al-Watan newspaper have been subject to a bombardment of e-mails to which they replied by publishing their standpoint on the matter in the discussions section of their newspaper under the title, ”About Cartoonists” at the beginning of this month. The newspaper reported that, &#34When the issue of Ali Ghamdi”s plagiarism was raised through inquisitive e-mails from readers, some were published on the discussions page to which Al-Ghamdi”s response was published in the same section.&#34 Al-Watan added that they have checked the original caricatures and saw that &#34The publishing of Ali Al-Ghamdi”s work in our newspaper must be suspended. At the same time, we take this opportunity to apologize to the readers and to the original cartoonists who were completely unaware of the situation.&#34 The newspaper also emphasized its respect for publishing and intellectual copyrights and the importance of the published work carrying the name of the original composer.&#34 The newspaper then transferred drawings of another cartoonist from the inside pages to the last page to substitute those of Al-Ghamdi.

At the end of May, Al-Ghamdi published an article in the discussions section in which he explained that from his point of view, new ideas can never develop &#34unless you compare yourself to one who is better than you, take from them what you can benefit from and discard that which is unbeneficial in order to reach their level.&#34 He compared his plagiarism to remaking films and songs in which artists are influenced by those that came before them and he believes that this act was not shameful at all.

In response to comments made about the influence of &#34some American schools&#34, Al-Ghamdi said that this was due to his constant surveillance of their work and the different aspects of their caricatures such as the simplicity of expression, its universality and its dependence on verbal jokes. He admires their style and methods of presentation. He said that he believes there is no harm in benefiting from their work. He also mentioned, however, that he misunderstood the concept of borrowing saying that, &#34this was evident in some of the later cartoons in which the resemblance did not clearly relate to the idea.&#34 Al-Ghamdi continued to argue his position on the matter by explaining that one of the officials from Al-Watan newspaper explained to him the different concepts of borrowing and that it is harmless to benefit from the work and experience of others as long as one presents his own personal message without copying that of the cartoon. Al-Ghamdi argues that most of the forums and mailing lists that are attacking him on the net use many of his animated characters without seeking permission from him and without citing the source of the drawings.

Al-Ghamdi concluded, &#34This is part of the gradual development from one style of caricature to a better one, just like any other art that needs to go through stages of imitation in order to advance.&#34 This process of development always experiences difficulties, but the process must continue. This development can be tedious and only one who experiences it can understand my point especially when having to bear in mind many other considerations such as publishing and copyright laws and I hope that the newspaper identifies my respect for these laws when they go through my statements.&#34

The plagiarized cartoons first appeared on the professional cartoonist”s website called ”Slate Magazine”. A complete article was put up along with readers” comments all in English. The titles were very sarcastic, mocking the plagiarists and one specific contribution that stood out was entitled &#34Disguised garbage collector fishes for originality&#34 in which the writer describes this kind of action as immoral. Another participant in the discussion aims to justify the plagiarism by arguing that originality stimulates more originality. A third view believes that this act cannot be justified as he said, &#34It is due to their education and upbringing that this happened.&#34 Another expressed that the term &#34garbage collector&#34 is very meaningful but at the same time, it is a great shame. He further adds that, &#34from childhood, these people are not taught how to ask questions or think for themselves, their system is one of memorization and dictation.&#34

Editor-in-Chief of Al-Watan newspaper, professor Othman El-Seeny refused to comment further on the matter after the publication of Al-Ghamdi”s explanation for his actions. However, a journalist from the newspaper who preferred to remain anonymous commented saying that although he was not completely familiar to the subject, in principle he believes that it is wrong to copy a caricature even if the message behind it differs to the original. From his professional point of view, he said, &#34even more critical mistakes have been made for example some Saudi cartoonists publish the same cartoon two or three times in the same journal, changing only its commentary.&#34 He further added, &#34People will believe lies for a while but in the end, the cheat will always be caught out.&#34 Regarding the local press he said, &#34This kind of deception should be revealed so that the press would purge itself of these maladies.&#34

Ibrahim Al-Wahibi of the Saudi newspaper ”Al-Yowm” comments on Al-Ghamdi”s response to the attacks by saying, &#34It is just ridiculous and it would have been better if he had remained silent because what has happened is blatant plagiarism and the stealing of other peoples” work and ideas. All that was missing from the copied cartoons was the signature of the original composer!&#34 He added that the case did not get appropriate coverage either on the internet or in the local press. He believes that the case should have been escalated so that the Ministry of Culture and Information, chief editors and the Saudi Journalist Association would take the necessary measures. He further explains, &#34This issue demoralizes local press and all Saudi cartoonists and if nothing is done to rectify the matter, then the case will be forgotten. I hope that cartoonists will not be affected by the mistakes of others and that this case will leave a bad impression of them.&#34

Al-Wahibi states that what we witnessed was a complete copy and not an imitation or act of borrowing ideas. Imitation of style, he believes, may be using a similar kind of handwriting or presentation theme; however, imitation of an idea is another matter. Furthermore, it is completely acceptable for someone to imitate at the age of thirteen but not for someone who works for a local newspaper, who is a teacher and who won a prize in appreciation for his work.&#34

Al Wahibi compared Al-Ghamdi” to the market sellers of Badhaa in Riyadh who sell copied CD”s that violate the rights of the producers. &#34Al-Ghamdi violated another cartoonist”s rights and it is for this reason that strong action should be taken. The crime is the same as that in which millions of copyright protected CD”s are duplicated causing millions of dollars worth of damage. I hope that new measures will be publicly announced to protect other caricaturists from massive generalizations that will be made due to its coverage on the Internet.&#34

Al-Wahibi expressed his dislike of computer animations, as he believes they have no attractiveness. In addition, he argues that the Internet makes it easier and quicker to steal the ideas of others, which happened to him. He explains, &#34A while after I left Al-Riyadh newspaper, they published one of my drawings. My archive was with the newspaper because it owned it. This caused problems with both Al-Riyadh and Akadth as the latter published that the drawings of a colleague were stolen and the former replied by publishing its claim that Al-Wahibi repeatedly uses the same drawings. I know some cartoonists who after showing a keen interest in the work of others, were not able to surpass the quality of the original cartoon and they admit their incapability. They are honest with themselves and those who they imitate. They are my colleagues and friends and we always keep in touch. I try to encourage them to form an identity of their own in the caricature world.&#34

Al-Wahibi hopes that the American cartoonist would file a lawsuit there and in Saudi Arabia if possible. He completely agrees and enjoyed reading a comment of one the writers from the internet forums saying that an e-mail should be sent to the American caricaturist to prompt him to file a lawsuit against those who plagiarized his drawings.

Al-Wahibi also had this message for Al-Ghamdi: &#34You did not only undermine yourself or your journal, but you undermined the whole of the Saudi press and the caricaturists from Al-Kharja as well as aspiring cartoonists. He also had a few words for professor Othman Al-Seeny, &#34I thought that being an academy professor he would show more responsibility, but he has let me down. His advice to others seems to be to use the work of others for personal benefit as long as it doesn”t equate stealing their efforts.&#34

The administrator of the website called for all internet users to report any similar cases by sending two e-mails, one of the newspaper website and the second of the original website. Asharq Al-Awsat tried to reach the caricaturists involved but they were unavailable.

During a telephone conversation with Ali Al-Ghamdi, he said that he will resume drawing for Al-Watan newspaper in no more than three months. It was agreed that he would take a holiday while his drawings are suspended however, he was not sure if he would return to the newspaper at all.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Asharq Al-Awsat checked the dates of publication of both the Saudi and foreign newspapers and found out that foreign copies were always issued prior to the others.