How dare ‘a little magazine’ accuse Forbes India of plagiarism!
Note: See an update at the bottom of this post
Take a look at these covers:
Clearly, they both use the metaphor of Clark Kent changing into Superman that most of us are familiar with. There are hundreds of different images that depict this, but both are based on the same interpretation by Alex Ross. More importantly, they convey a very similar thought—about an Indian politician transforming for the ordinary to the extraordinary.
The image to your left is of the cover of Pragati’s October 2010 issue published online on October 1st 2010. The image on your right is from Forbes India’s December 2010 special issue, published on December 17th. Clarke Kent has been changing to Superman for several decades now, but Forbes India’s use of the visual metaphor, in a similar context came two months after our October issue.
I—and this is my personal opinion—think that this is not a coincidence. To me it looks like Forbes India copied our cover, and I said so in a tweet on New Year’s eve.
At Pragati we believe we are selling ideas and not magazines. Every issue of our magazine is available under a Creative Commons license for non-commericial use. We also allow commercial publications to reprint our articles free of cost (but after getting our permission, which we generally give if the original author allows). Since our contributors write or draw for Pragati out of passion, I think we owe it to them to ensure that they get due recognition and credit for their work.
In this case, our October 2010 cover is unique because it was entirely the work of Aditya Dipankar & Anuj Agarwal, a team of very talented designers. Usually I play a major role in designing the cover, but in this case, Aditya and Anuj pitched this concept to me, which I approved with some changes.
Now, it is possible that the design team of Forbes India arrived at their Superman cover independently of us and I might be wrong to allege plagiarism. I expected the editors of Forbes India to check with all members of the design team involved in producing the cover on where the inspiration came from. If they found it to be a mere coincidence, an explanation in defence would have satisfied both me and their readers. Otherwise, a “sorry, thank you” would have been in order. It wouldn’t take me more than a moment to apologise if I found my allegations to be erroneous.
Unfortunately, that’s not what they did. The official Forbes_India twitterer said—and the magazine’s editor, a Inderjit Gupta retweeted—that the Superman metaphor is well-known, famous, iconic and our designers might have been reading the same comics. As if we didn’t know that!
What was worse is that Peter Griffin, one of their editors—writing on his personal blog with a disclaimer that it was in his personal capacity—used intemperate language not only to disparage Pragati, Indian National Interest and Takshashila, but also to threaten us with legal action for slander and—hold on to your seats—violating the flag code! This wasn’t Mr Griffin defending his magazine against allegations. He was arrogantly excoriating a ‘little magazine’ for having the temerity to accuse Forbes India of plagiarism.
I see no point in responding to Mr Griffin’s vituperations against us because they are irrelevant to whether or not Forbes India copied our cover. But it must be said that he clearly is irony deficient. Forbes India can use Superman because that is well-known and iconic, but he says the Indian National Interest is a “rip-off” of the Nixon Center’s The National Interest. He dismisses us as “people who can’t even think up an original name aren’t worth paying too much attention to” but works for Network18, an Indian media company that owns CNN-IBN, CNBC-TV18 and, well, Forbes India. Or maybe he isn’t paying too much attention to them.
Update: Peter Griffin wrote to me this evening. He apologised for his remarks but maintained that my accusation of plagiarism is “completely unjustified”. He has published a part of this on his blog post. This is as courageous as it is correct and gracious.
On the charge of plagiarism, I have shared with him some information that caused me to suspect that there is more to this than mere coincidence. I am assured that he will look into the matter with the seriousness it deserves.
Second Update: Mr Griffin has followed up on the information I gave him and informed me on January 5th that my suspicion is unfounded. He also notes that one of his colleagues “may have seen the name Pragati in portfolios that he has seen, but has no recollection of it.” I will take Mr Griffin’s word on this, give his team the benefit of the doubt and retract the allegation with my personal apologies.