Cover versions

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:

Pragati - October 2010 Cover
Pragati Oct 2010
Forbes India - Dec 2010
Forbes India Dec 2010, ©

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.

30 thoughts on “Cover versions”

  1. At a visual level, on first look, Forbes cover looks strikingly similar to yours. I read the blog post referred to by you and found the language harsh. Regards.

  2. This is not the first time Forbes India has copied original artwork. Apart from their designer’s self-confessed “homage” (plagiarized) to Volkswagon advertising campaign. They also ripped-off an old Ronal Reagan cartoon for their August 27, 2010 cover.

    I have put the proof here

    I am sure Forbes will claim it was another “homage” to a famous cartoon.

    The only cartoons here are the overpaid fancy designers with excellent cut-paste skills backed by equally overpaid lawyers of big media houses in the era of Radia Tapes.

    After all, it is hip and trendy to recycle. So why stop at paper, why not recycle popular ideas too!

    1. That was a nice catch too. Forbes India consists of a bunch of plagiarizers with no shame whatsoever.

  3. Just because Forbes has the money muscle, they are thinking they can get away with anything and everything. Time to teach them a lesson.

  4. Now you are turning this into a david vs goliath thingie… the fact is, the original accusation of plagiarism is downright silly… if it is plagiarism, both of you are guilty of it – ripping off an iconic comic hero visual.

  5. If there are no original common sources showing Superman tilting his head left hand side chin up, this is a clear case of plagiarism. The examples quoted by Forbes are all looking straight and none with this particular head tilt and facial expression.
    I also agree that Mr Griffin’s rant is very impolite and non courteous.
    More power to INI and the original design/thinking.

  6. I clicked on Google Images searching for “Clark kent”. I couldn’t find a single image of Clark Kent looking to the left at the same angle as has been depicted on your cover. It would be too much of a coincidence if Forbes had come up with the same angle, two months after your issue came out.

    1. Do a Google Image Search for “clark kent turning into superman”. Many images of this sort will turn up. It’s kind of silly to accuse Forbes of plagiarism because of the fact that this image is iconic and recognized worldwide.

      Maybe Forbes saw Pragati’s cover and thought, “Oh, using Clark Kent as a metaphor for an ordinary person turning into someone who does extraordinary deeds” – That’s probably the extent of the plagiarism – and it’s also hardest to prove because what comes after has been copied by both magazines from the souce.

    2. Our designers made their sketch based on Alex Ross’s Clarke Kent (see this). As is theirs.

      Now, no one is claiming that the original imagery is ours — obviously it’s not — but rather that their cover was, umm, err, ‘inspired’, by ours.

      1. Two magazines covering the same geography using Clark Kent inspired themes in a matter of 2 months is interesting coincidence.Hypothetically if Forbes India had published that cover in October and Pragati followed it in December the venerable Peter Griffin’s taunt’s in his personal capacity on his blog would be a revelation for sure. Check’s & balance’s followed by a Goliath could have been a bit better if it was under the impression that every David was out to get them.

  7. All is well that ends well. A nuanced reply wouldn’t have caused hurt feelings (in the first instance) even if one agrees to disagree. Nice to know that things are sorted out. Best wishes & Regards.

  8. The Forbes India, editor, thinks that Pragati is too tiny to pay heed to, but, then he has almost penned a book on his blog about the company. I think he isn’t sure of himself.

  9. the method of paying homage is so akin, that it seems the designers at Forbes are underpaid and are starving and the lawyers are overpaid.

    In the next issue, Pragati might be paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi. Please follow suit.

  10. For a “little magazine”, Pragati’s covers have always been as good as, if not better than, those of the glossies on the news-stand. Aditya Dipankar and Anuj Agarwal deserve kudos. Imitation by “big magazines” is the best compliment they can get.

  11. I agree with Oldtimer. Pragati’s covers have always been very, very good and more importantly true to their content which is not so much of a tradition with
    mainstream magazines.

    Please carry on the fantastic work you do with even more strength.

  12. I left a comment on Mr Griffin’s blog 2 days ago – still not posted there. Griffin sounds drunk with power, but realized everyone could see his bluff, and hence sounds toned down now.

    Network-18 seems to be jumping from one controversy to another of late. This is one company with a lot of muck hidden, for sure.

  13. The instinctive reaction of the forbes guys is telling.
    It is also typical of media wallahs who abhor the thought of being held to the same standards of propriety that they use to measure others. These guys have joined the hallowed pantheon of the “do as i say, but i will do whatever i want to do” BDutts and VSanghvis.

    Well done for asking them to take a long walk off a short pier.

  14. Copying they say is the best for of flattery / compliments right?:)

    And when Forbes India does it, you have every reason to feel good:)

    But what frazzles me is why did Fores get so aggressive?!?

    Coming from an advtg b/g I know Plagiarism is rampant in the world of communication/media – and all of it is beautifully veiled as “homage” to a famous cartoon/place/thing etc etc

    Forbes India- yea sure we believe ya!!!?!!

  15. Both of you copied or used a very well-known image. I agree with Mr.Griffin that this is not plagiarism and that all it suggests is that the designers were reading the same comics.

    But he comes across as pompous and more than a little arrogant. The “do you know who you’re talking to?” attitude. He could have made his point more effectively by not getting all high and mighty.


  16. Nitin, you were way out of line, and from where I stand, it was your language that was vituperative and intemperate. Get your facts straight before accusing someone of plagiarism. If Forbes cover was “inspired” by yours, you still have no legal standing unless it was an exact copy, especially given that you since admit that both yours and Forbes ideas are hardly original and “inspired” by Alex Ross’s drawing. I say this as a former lawyer turned journalist.

    Here’s the thing: You may be selling “ideas” but there is no copyright in ideas. This isnt something I have cooked up; it’s the law.

    To give you an example, I am currently writing a feature about a topical issue. It’s quite possible that several other people are writing features about the same issue and it’s likely that we will all say the same things. Not because we are plagiarising but because there is very little new under the sun. I’d be bloody angry if I were accused of plagiarism because I had the same idea as someone else. I don’t think you deserved that gracious apology, to be honest.

    1. Dear Kavitha,

      Your gratuitous legal opinion apart, I am, shall we say, mildly amused that you find my language “intemperate & vituperative”, especially when you have nothing to say about Mr Griffin’s. Unless you believe that it is okay to hurl unrelated, irrelevant insults at someone who might have grounds to suspect plagiarism, I am amused at the selectivity of your determination of who is out of line.

    2. For a person who claims to be a lawyer turned journalist, Kavitha Rao neglects to mention her professional connection with Peter Griffin. See. Full disclosure can rot in hell, I suppose.

      Perhaps that explains the lack of objectivity.

    3. So u r a lawyer. You are also a journalist. Therefore, we should deduce that you know more than all of us here, put together.

      The tragedy is, journalism in India has always been a pretty low IQ profession. And if you thought the information age shall herald a change, well, not anytime soon ….

    4. Well, Kavitha, the ‘gracious’ apology was for the weird and nasty rant about sizes and names and stuff. Mr.Griffin *gained* by apologizing. He could have been a little more careful about his response and avoided having anything to apologize for, in the first place.

      Mr.Griffin rightly and specifically excluded the plagiarism part from the apology, and on this score the apology is in the reverse direction.

      Possibly a needless flap that could have been avoided by resorting to *private email* first rather than public tweets.

      But in the event, handled reasonably well by both parties.


  17. Nitin,
    I stand by my view that plagiarism accusations should not be made on Twitter. That, in my view, is intemperate.

    Dilip, just so you know, that workshop is a free workshop I conduct every year for KGAF, not Peter. I am paid nothing for it. I don’t see that as a “professional disclosure” that I need to make in public.

    1. Kavitha,

      You are entitled to your views. But you cannot expect reasonable people to agree with you that plagiarism accusations can only be made on certain platforms, and not on others, and that making plagiarism accusations on twitter is intemperate.

      Not least when you do not think irrelevant and insulting remarks made on a blog is somehow not intemperate! Not least when the person who made those remarks thinks that they are intemperate and has apologised for them.

      So why should anyone take your views with any seriousness?

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