Recently, a reputable scooter brand copied a piece of art from Indra Jatra and posted it to their social media accounts (Instagram / Facebook) without any attribution. It was an illustration by Diwas Maharjan of Hamro Patro. The company removed the image after the graphic design community raised concerns about it.
Likewise, another case of copyright infringement in design work occurred when a popular restaurant brand in Nepal copied the same image and posted it on their social media pages.
On top of that, this restaurant’s social media manager sent an irresponsible message when the illustrator asked for a rationale. The restaurant deleted the image after a while.
Graphic Designers’ Community Nepal has raised questions through its social media group about these activities. In response, some netizens suggested taking legal action, writing a review on the company’s social media wall, and some sharply criticizing the restaurant’s thoughtless response to the digital artist.
The challenges of design plagiarism run much deeper than what we see. Brands and digital artists need to be alert to these incidents and take the necessary steps from their side to reduce infringements.
Why does design plagiarism exist in Nepal?
Plagiarism is not a new concern for designers. But, this is a less discussed question. Granted, this is a complex issue as all the hard work of digital artists goes up in smoke when it happens. And it is not only a problem in Nepal, but it is an international problem.
These are some reasons behind the plagiarism in design work in Nepal.
# 1. Artists are not paid well and in many cases seen as a wasteful investment
Low wages are a problem for artists in almost all countries. And especially in Nepal, being an artist is still an underestimated profession. Many mid to large businesses and businesses are unwilling to invest in digital artists or designers. However, they want to be visible on social networks through illustrations.
“The easiest way for them is to save, take a screenshot and edit / copy other people’s digital artwork and share it in their handles.” shares Saurav Thapa Shrestha, member of Graphic Designers Community Nepal.
On top of that, in some cases, poorly paid digital artists will use the images available on Google or social media and edit or copy / paste for their tasks.
# 2. Limited images and unavailability of the free image collection
Not everyone, especially startups and small businesses, can pay for artists or buy images. Platforms like Freepiks, Unsplash, and Pexels serve those people who can’t invest in artists. However, we have very limited image collections in Nepal.
âIt’s because the artists here usually don’t contribute to such a platform,â Shrestha shares. As their salary scale is low compared to illustrators in other countries, they do not prefer to give away pictures for free on public platforms.
# 3. Getting rid of plagiarism allegations
Especially in Nepal, where any legal action consumes a lot of time and energy, digital artists do not want to engage in a protracted process.
âMost problems are resolved between two parties; the illustrator / company owning it or the person or brand who used it ‘ says Abhash Bikram Thapa, founder of the Community. Very few of them go ahead with legal action.
What needs to be done?
# 1. Copyright protection
The Copyright Act, 2059 (2002) protects the copyright in original works. The act deals with photography, illustration and other visual works. According to the law, the author of a work is the first owner of the economic right of this work.
Article 20 of the law stipulates that without the authorization of the author or the owner of the copyright of such work, to disseminate and publish to the public, compensation for the loss shall be incurred.
Likewise, Article 29 says that anyone who imports a unauthorized copying of any work shall pay compensation to the copyright owner for its loss. The offender will be punished with fine in the amount of five thousand to fifty thousand rupees depending on the seriousness of the offense. Also, the copy will be seized.
Although most designers do not prefer to go this route, choosing this difficult route can control plagiarism to some extent.
# 2. Registration of works
Any form of art can be registered at the office of the copyright registrar of Nepal.
âMany canvas artists record their paintings, but only a few illustrators and digital artists record. It will be a difficult task because the number of digital arts is extremely high. “ Shrestha adds “But that will reduce the problem to some extent.”
Likewise, digital artists / illustrators can use the Creative Commons Copyright license. This allows individual artists and owners of the work of art to grant copyright permission within the limits of copyright law. Many digital artists agree to donate their work, but they are afraid of its misuse or commercial use. In this case, the CC license protects the copyright and allows the use of the art within a certain limit.
# 3. Brand awareness
Graphic designs or digital art are prone to plagiarism, especially with the growing engagement of individuals and brands on social media. The problem with the design is that anyone can claim the arts as their own with some cropping, editing, and a few modifications. Plus, since most people don’t take legal action, offenders get away with plagiarism allegations simply by removing social media posts.
If this indifference persists, digital designers / artists will continue to suffer and no constructive solution will emerge at any time. Brands need to start recognizing digital artists / designers and seeing them as a long-term investment and an asset to the business.
âIn some cases, they can take the art with the owner’s name. But it must be a strict practice, âShrestha shares.
The Graphic Designers’ Community formed in 2011 discusses the issue during meetings and discussions, “We haven’t raised this concern frequently but now it is high time” Thapa shares.
Thapa and Shrestha both share that, as design plagiarism has become common recently, it needs to be controlled before it gets out of hand.