Tackling Plagiarism: Insights from a Creator, a Lawyer, and a Product Manager
Today, where information flows freely and creativity takes center stage, plagiarism is becoming an increasingly worrisome issue, pulling a shadow over the growing digital creation industry. For many creators, this poses a significant question: how do we protect ourselves and our work from the greedy hands of opportunists?
To delve deeper into this issue, for this week’s #CreatorStories, we’ve sought the insight of three distinct voices: a photographer whose work was plagiarized, a lawyer well versed in the area, and a product manager here at Selar, to share how Selar is helping creators protect themselves from plagiarism, and how other creators can take advantage of our features.
With this article, we aim to shed light on the complexities of plagiarism, exploring its impact on creators, and the legal implications that govern the fine line between inspiration and infringement. We hope that after reading, you will gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and solutions that underpin the battle against plagiarism.
(Name has been changed to protect creator).
Hey Creator, tell us about your experience.
One jolly day, somebody sent me pictures via DM. “Sorry, is this not your work?” they said. I saw a couple of paintings that a person had made. He had used my pictures for “inspiration,” basically copied the picture, and was selling it in Europe for thousands and thousands of dollars. I went to their page and found that they did the same thing to a bunch of other people. The person never reached out, never took permission, you know? So I reached out to a lawyer to share my mind, and she said, “Yeah, it counts as a copyright infringement.” I then hired a legal team, to take up the case. We now faced the biggest problem: the person was very careful not to have any address online.
So what did you do?
We reached out to some of the galleries in Europe where the paintings were being held, but they were not very forthcoming.
Why was that?
In some places in Europe, they have laws that allow you to use another person’s artwork as inspiration if you make some reasonable changes. What “reasonable” means can be interpreted differently depending on the lawyer or jurisdiction and whatnot, but yeah, till now we’ve not been able to reach him, and I don’t know if he’s still using it because we were going to sue him or try to get him to pay a percentage of the money he collected from sales. He sold one of the paintings for like eight to ten thousand dollars.
Yeah, so, even though I paid the law firm already, we’ve not gotten anything, and it’s been over a year—almost two years.
I know this question is a little weird, but why do you think people plagiarize?
Being creative isn’t easy. It’s easier to copy than to come up with something on your own. And to be fair, most ideas are generally recycled, but plagiarism comes from a lack of originality.
I get you. Do you have any advice for creators whose works have been plagiarized?
Hmm, based on my own experience. Try to get something for your work and if impossible, just move on because in some cases, there’s really nothing you can do. If you can find the person, it’s okay to try and get the worth of your work back. Also, remember that people who plagiarize will always be one step behind. This is why people go to the court of public opinion for things like this because if you copied my work, and I’m not able to find you and the law system does not necessarily protect me at every instance, then I can just ridicule your— what’s it called?
Exactly! Many artists just find a way to get people to know that the person who plagiarized is not a good person. Basically what I’m saying is that sometimes, the legal route may not necessarily work, so it is one of those situations whereby if that doesn’t work, then you might need to go to the court of public opinion and get people to talk about it.
Thank you so much for speaking with me. This has been so insightful.
So, I wanted to ask: from a legal perspective. How can creators protect themselves from plagiarism?
So, the first thing is to have a basic idea of how to protect your work. I feel like creators need to first understand what intellectual property is as a concept because many people do not know.
In fact, a running joke among lawyers is that when musicians are in the studio, they do everything necessary, from arrangement to composition before they decide to involve their lawyers. This results in problems distributing royalties and giving credits because every contributor is entitled to intellectual property rights over their contributions.
People say this a lot, and some will take it casually, but it’s always good for you to have a lawyer cause the minute you understand that your work is protected, and you inherently have copyright over certain types of work, then you will have somebody you can talk to when your rights are infringed upon, who will teach you how to protect yourself. The remedy you get from dragging people on social media or claiming that somebody stole your work is quite limited.
The next step is enforcing your rights. Nigerians generally shy away from the court or from enforcing their rights for different reasons. I mean, some don’t believe in the judicial system.
For others, they believe that if you attack certain people within an industry then it could lead to animosity, or you’d be blackballed. However, we need to understand that the only way that your work will be respected is if you’re able to enforce the fact that somebody is cheating you. A very good example is the case between Tempoe and Asa over the song, IDG.
I would also advise people to document their process of creation. Again I understand that creativity is spontaneous, but if you’re able to document the process, then you’re able to enforce that right. Sometimes, it takes time. Other times, it doesn’t because primarily, the court respects intellectual property, and there are many remedies available.
For one, you can get an injunction that would prevent the person from continuing to use your work, and that’s already a fundamental step in protecting your work. So, like with the Tempo case. After the release of the IDG song, the guy reached out to Asa’s lawyers and Asa gave no comment, then he fixed it up with his lawyers. Next thing they get an injunction, and that song is off the net.
That’s really interesting.
It really is. So again, like I said, it all depends on the value you attach to your work. If you’re really interested in getting redress, you would. Generally, courts in Nigeria will delay you, and that can be discouraging, but again, your art is an expression of yourself. It takes originality and lots of time, so if you know how much you value your art, then you should be fine with protecting it as much as you can.
At the end of the day, it all begins with education. Education is fundamental for any creative who wants to protect their rights.
This has been so insightful. Thank you so much.
Seyi, Product Manager
How can creators protect their work from plagiarism using Selar?
Selar is committed to helping people and organizations protect their intellectual property rights. We have a copyright policy that does not allow the distribution of works that violate someone else’s intellectual property rights, including copyright and trademark.
As a creator, if your work has been plagiarized, and you notice a store on Selar selling it, we comply with world standards with respect to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and we have clear guidelines to follow, which involve reporting, investigation, then actions taken by us.
If our compliance team sees or receives a report from a rights owner claiming that a product on your Selar storefront infringes their intellectual property rights, we may need to promptly deactivate that product without contacting you first.
All you have to do is reach out to us giving a detailed report on the infringed copyright or intellectual property you want to report. Then, we go ahead and investigate. While investigations are ongoing, we deactivate the product and ask them for proof to show that the work is actually theirs.
Based on the outcome of the investigation, we can either choose to permanently deactivate your store (if it’s a very serious case) or give a warning to ensure you don’t repeat the action.
If we remove content that you posted because of an intellectual property report submitted via email as spelled out in our policy, you’ll receive a notification from us that may include the name and email address of the rights owner who made the report and/or other details of the report. If you still believe the content shouldn’t have been removed, you can follow up with the rights owner directly to try to resolve the issue.
Have there been any instances of plagiarized work?
For sure. We had a report from Multichoice about a merchant that was selling apps that allowed people to circumvent payment and watch their content for free. We deactivated the product and sent the merchant a notice.
Because we saw he had other products, we reviewed his entire catalog and deactivated other products that infringed on copyright, but we didn’t deactivate his entire store because he had some products that were either open source or his. So we asked him to provide us with more information and gave him a strong warning.
Interestingly, he went ahead and created another account with the same products we had deactivated, and that ultimately warranted a complete deactivation of his account and a ban preventing him from creating other accounts in the future.
So, that’s from the legal perspective.
How about from a product angle?
From a product angle, I will start with the example of video content, say a course. First of all, we allow you the option to make your course video downloadable or view-only when you host it on Selar.
View-only prevents people from screen recording because we have high encryption standards we use and are continuously improving. People still always find ways to get around the system (eg. using another phone’s camera to record), so to further prevent situations like that, we went a step further recently, and now have a watermark option on all videos hosted on Selar that displays the email address of the person accessing the product.
So, if you ever find out that your work has been plagiarized and is unrightly distributed, you can easily trace the source, which gives you some level of guarantee.
For other types of products, like ebooks, we give you the option of hosting it on Selar and making it read-only or you can also choose to make the file downloadable after purchase. You should note that when you make things downloadable, it’s out of our hands, because once a digital copy can be saved, you can’t control how it’s distributed, so we advise people to just host whatever content they have on Selar to make it read-only or view-only. Very simple.
What would you advise anyone to do if their work has been plagiarized?
Okay, first of all, I would advise them to get a paid Selar plan, so they can host their courses on Selar to ensure people do not download them. We have people who because they don’t want to pay for a plan, remain on the free Plan and host the files on Google Drive.
That’s unfortunately not safe enough for you as a creator, so we advise you to explore one of our paid plans and host your course on Selar to ensure that you protect your product. Then, if you do notice that your stuff has been plagiarized whether you’re a creator on Selar or not, we have a very robust copyright policy that you can review and follow.
This was so good to hear.
Plagiarism can be a very demoralizing experience that can affect the motivation and livelihood of creators. However, as we’ve seen from the insight provided by the professionals above, several remedies exist for creators to explore. For one, they can approach the court of law for redress.
While this may be a tedious process, with patience they can get an injunction and even damages. They may also explore the court of public opinion, which may not be as effective or as rewarding but could serve as a deterrent and prevent other creators from falling prey.
Most effectively of all, they can host their courses on Selar, where several mechanisms have been put in place to ensure the protection of our creators and prevent product theft from taking place.