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The Loom­ing Cre­ative Bat­tle

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Why did you file two law­suits against Tarek Che­maly in his ca­pac­ity as a blog­ger?

He used to ex­press and post on his blog his neg­a­tive opin­ions about my cre­ations and those of the com­pa­nies that I have worked for, which nat­u­rally he is free to do; how­ever, what he is not al­lowed to do is ac­cuse me of be­ing a thief. I won’t let any­one ruin my rep­u­ta­tion and im­age, es­pe­cially if he is ly­ing and cre­at­ing bad ru­mours.

Che­maly claims to have solid proofs in his de­fense. Is that ac­cu­rate?

Good for him and if this is the case, then pre­sent­ing them in court will back his claim.

Ac­cord­ing to our sources, you have been ac­cused of wrong­fully tak­ing other peo­ple's con­cepts start­ing with the Moukarzel Jew­elry. Are th­ese claims valid?

Not at all. The main point in ev­ery cam­paign is hav­ing a solid con­cept, every­thing else is sec­ondary. Let’s as­sume I cre­ated a great cam­paign and chose the red color for it. There will be a lot of peo­ple talk­ing about the amaz­ing cre­ated con­cept, few of them will say, oops it looks like Coca-cola, be­cause of the red. Only one per­son will say, Sami Saab steals Coca-cola. The idea is not a colour or an item or a type­face, the big idea is the mag­i­cal re­sult that cre­ates a real buzz, a real phe­nom­e­non. In the end, all of us are us­ing the same in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate dif­fer­ent re­sults.

We of­ten face copy­cat cases in ad­ver­tis­ing and de­bate whether it's in­spi­ra­tion or im­i­ta­tion, when it comes to orig­i­nal­ity in ad­ver­tis­ing, but we rarely hear of law­suits as th­ese mat­ters are hard to prove. Why have you taken this mat­ter so per­sonal?

I re­ally don’t care about opin­ions, but when some­one fab­ri­cates a lie and be­lieves it, openly ac­cuses me with­out any proof, hurts my name, my rep­u­ta­tion, my com­pany, my pas­sion, my legacy and my clients… I am left with no other choice but take le­gal ac­tion. At the end we are liv­ing in a coun­try ruled by the law.

Che­maly sup­pos­edly doc­tored two of your own ads re­plac­ing the com­peti­tor lo­gos. How le­gal is this and why is it rel­e­vant to the case?

It is not le­gal at all. I don’t know ask him.

Un­for­tu­nately, it seems the case is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated as it also ex­tends to an­other law­suit you are in­volved in with Clé­men­tine your former em­ployer who is su­ing you for em­bez­zle­ment. What is the al­leged link be­tween the two cases?

Firstly, Clé­men­tine was not my former em­ployer, I was the co-founder and part­ner. Af­ter al­most four years, I de­cided to leave my beloved Clé­men­tine peace­fully. I re­signed from my po­si­tion as co-founder, part­ner and head of cre­ative, on a pos­i­tive note… I de­cided to start over with a new Ad ven­ture, which is Phe­nom­ena. (I have sent you my let­ter at that time and I re­mem­ber that you pub­lished two ver­sions, the mail that they sent and the one that I have sent.) Go­ing back to the mat­ter in ques­tion, there is no link. Tarek is be­ing sued for cre­at­ing bad ru­mours about me and Cle­men­tine have a com­pe­ti­tion prob­lem with me.

We know that you ac­cused Che­maly of con­tact­ing your clients on­line as well as ‘de­lib­er­ately’ post­ing on Le­banese blogs. What is your com­ment?

No com­ment, let the law reign in this case.

Are you con­sid­er­ing any other le­gal steps?

I will keep it be­tween me and my lawyers.

A le­gal feud has sparked much con­tro­versy be­tween two lo­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion per­son­al­i­ties who are pulling all the stops in de­fense of free­dom of ex­pres­sion on the one hand and cre­ativ­ity on the other. Like in all dis­putes there are al­ways two sides to the story and one can­not get to the truth of the mat­ter with­out hear­ing both sides. In a bid to get to the bot­tom of the mat­ter by pre­sent­ing both with the op­por­tu­nity to clar­ify, Arabad sat with TAREK CHE­MALY, blog­ger, univer­sity lec­turer and com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tant to dis­cuss not one, but two le­gal ac­tion suits filed against him. We then dis­cussed both claims re­lated to the cre­ative work in ques­tion and the lim­its of free speech with SAMI SAAB, Founder and CEO of Phe­nom­ena ad­ver­tis­ing agency.

What fol­lows are their ac­counts into the on­go­ing ac­tion suits.

Nor­mally when one is slapped with two law­suits one is not usu­ally as zen as you are, how come this at­ti­tude?

Hon­estly, as soon as the cy­ber­crime bureau phoned to tell me I was to give my tes­ti­mony in the case and they told me who the plain­tiff is I knew im­me­di­ately that he was dig­ging a hole for him­self. Yes, I did call him “thief ” but in all my years of jour­nal­ism since 1993 and my blog­ging since 2007 I have avoided to give la­bels to peo­ple un­less there are solid proofs.

So what are the proofs as you call them in this case?

In the world of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, there are two ma­jor breaches – pla­gia­rism and coun­ter­feit. Pla­gia­rism is when you lit­er­ally copy an ad and put your client’s name on it, which be­lieve it or not the plain­tiff has been do­ing so for a while and keeps do­ing it. Coun­ter­feit is when you im­i­tate an ad to such a de­gree that you end up ap­pro­pri­at­ing its “core cre­ative” el­e­ments and re­pro­duc­ing them as your own. Both are se­ri­ous crimes.

So how come you are not pro­vid­ing us with a copy of those proofs?

The cy­ber­crime bureau made me sign a pa­per, which for­bids me to state the name of the plain­tiff un­til the end of the trial. Lo­cal NGOS have in­formed me that the pa­per is il­le­gal. How­ever, I was told specif­i­cally that not sign­ing it will land me in pri­son. The proofs have the name of my plain­tiff on them since they are taken from my blog archive.

AA: So let us ask you, is that per­son Sami Saab from Phe­nom­ena?

I am not at lib­erty to con­firm or deny the ques­tion.

OK, we re­spect your le­gal po­si­tion. So what was the sec­ond law­suit about?

That’s tricky to ex­plain. You see I kept think­ing, this per­son is so delu­sional that he al­lows him­self to take other peo­ple’s ideas, lay­outs, con­cepts and ex­e­cu­tions and ap­pro­pri­ates them. He re­cy­cles older con­cepts for new clients, he breaches ev­ery law there is in terms of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, so I even­tu­ally came up with an idea: Why not take ads he has done for clients, ones he has al­ready sold and does not own any­more and change them in such a way so as to put the com­peti­tors’ lo­gos in­stead of his own clients.

But…. Is this le­gal?

Ex­actly my point I picked a bank and a sweets shop he does ads for and re­placed them with lo­gos of com­peti­tors with whom I have priv­i­leged re­la­tion­ships. I apol­o­gised pub­li­cally to the par­ties in­volved. But my point was clear: My plain­tiff was say­ing “this

is not theft”. Good then I am not a thief either. But how can he ex­plain to his clients that this is not theft? Be­cause I’ve con­tacted his clients on­line, he took it very bad, as they turned the mat­ter into a scan­dal.

So, now… what?

By the time this ar­ti­cle is pub­lished le­gal pro­ceed­ings would have come to ef­fect. Iron­i­cally, the plain­tiff is link­ing my case to that of his former em­ployer, who is su­ing him for em­bez­zle­ment. The funny part is that when the law­suit was pre­sented I had no re­la­tion­ship with the com­pany that used to em­ploy him and they did not en­tice me to pub­lish the ar­ti­cle in ques­tion and call him thief. Now I do have close con­nec­tions to them, as they truly un­der­stood that I am fight­ing this prac­ti­cally on my own.

We at Arabad can­not take sides and over­lap the law, but we do un­der­stand you have been on a mis­sion to clear the ad­ver­tis­ing industry from peo­ple you think breach laws, did you go a step too far here?

No, the proofs are ir­refutable and I have faith in the Le­banese ju­di­cial sys­tem. Whereas such cases are con­sid­ered mi­nor un­der the Le­banese law, I in­tend ev­ery­one to know whom my plain­tiff is and what he has done. Oddly, this whole af­fair gave me fo­cus and even an in­ner drive and peace.

SAMI SAAB

TAREK CHE­MALY

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