The Looming Creative Battle
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.