Robbing the Artist Blind: A Case Study in Plagiarism in a West African Nation

Ask any artist or person who makes a living from creative endeavors what their greatest fear is. Seven times out of ten, they will say it’s the terror they feel knowing that some faceless entity or individual will and can steal their work. It’s a personal violation that guts an artist to their core. The other portion of that fear is attributed to  a dread that they will not be able to make a living from their craft. The moniker “starving artist” doesn’t exist for nothing.

Last night, I witnessed a breathtaking theft of an artist’s original work. It literally stopped my heart. If it upset ME, I shudder to think what emotions the content creator – in this instance Peter “Poka” Asamoah – must’ve been experiencing. Have a look at these two images and see if you are not left speechless.

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The culprit responsible for this a man named Kobina Gyekye Hooper, ardent Nana Addo supporter and CEO at Hoops Link Media HRLM Fashion Week who hails from Takoradi. In a gesture of fairness, I sent Mr. Hooper a message asking him to explain why he felt he had the right to steal, alter and pass off Mr. Asamoah’s work as his own. He has declined to respond. It’s bad enough that he stole what is really a brilliant and heartwarming piece of work…it’s worse that he memed it with garish colors and wretched grammar. Both the grammarian and design critic in me are vexed!

For the sake of transparency, allow me to inform you that Poka has illustrated both of my children’s books (Yaa Traps Death in a Basket and Sally and the Butterfly), so I take this slight against him personally. He’s a good and humble guy. He is a much sought after artist who has worked with Sarkodie, John Dumelo, the Ministry of Health and as I mentioned, me. You can’t beat the combination of his reasonable rates and the quality of work that you get. There is absolutely NO REASON that this NPP minion – Mr. Hooper – had to steal his work with the sole aim of advancing his chosen party’s agenda. To make matters worse, the image is now plastered all over the ‘I Am For Nana’ Facebook page with 256 shares and close to 1500 likes. That’s all advertising and exposure that has been taken AWAY from the original artist, Poka Asamoah.

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This is not the first time Poka has had his intellectual property appropriated. Just last month, an unnamed manager for the Instagram page of popular Nigerian musical duo, P-Square, also altered and posted Poka’s work, failing to acknowledge him as the originator. Notice the hearts where his trademark watermark used to be.

Again, neither P-Square nor their rep took responsibility for the theft or apologized to Poka for malicious act.

Here’s the rub: When African nationals complain of having an unfair reputation for corruption (unless a government official or police officer is in question) I find it amusing and disingenuous. As expected, two people so far have challenged me on Twitter about why this act of plagiarism is a “party issue”, and wonder if I am not deflecting from the many sins of the ruling NDC party. Please. I am capable are far more nuance and objectivity than that, and those making these wild assertions should be too. This is about more than absolving the opposition from wrong doing or turning a blind eye to the way NDC has – and is – ruining the country. This is about integrity and about what Ghanaians ought to expect from Nana Addo and all who fly his party’s colors. It’s about the future. Just as the NDC are branded as brainless thugs by most of the populace for their propensity for violence, does the NPP want itself recognized as the marauder of the talents of the middle class and common man?

When you steal an independent, struggling artist’s work and pass it off as your own in order to further your party’s agenda, you are saying two things: That you have no respect and that you are untrustworthy. For instance, our Girl Scout Association has a set of rules that ALL Scouts are bound to. Paramount of these is an expectation that all Scouts will act with fairness, treat others with kindness and respect for others. When you meet a Scout, you expect them to be helpful and mindful of the feelings of others. This is their brand. What brand – what impression and legacy – are the supporters of Nana Addo creating when they refuse to acknowledge their wrong doing? Like it or not, this is a reflection on HIM, and he would do well to nip this in the bud now, advise his followers to be circumspect and honest, and if he’s that hard up for content, PAY Poka to do some original work for him!

This is the ripple effect of Kobina Gyekye Hooper’s blatant theft:

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  • He has robbed Poka of potential clientele  – and revenue, by extension – since he has passed this work off as his own.
  • He has given a growing number of people pause and reason to call into question his (Hooper) OWN brand’s integrity and trustworthiness.
  • He has provided yet another infuriating example for why the African cannot be trusted to govern himself, even in the small things.
  • He has given other artists a reason to hold back from sharing their art in the public domain for fear of getting jacked. (This potentially works out in their favor, but the rest of us are poorer for it.)
  • It creates an atmosphere of fear and distrust in the art community.

 

IMG_2569For his part, Poka has reached out to Kobina Hooper and asked him to address the theft as well. Again, Hooper has refused to respond. In a proper society, Poka could sue Mr. Hooper for plagiarism and seek redress, however there is no reason to have faith in Ghana’s judicial system, given the corruption that is rife within the system. And because Kobina Gyekye Hooper is utterly lacking in integrity, he has chosen to hide behind his private Facebook account, rather than acknowledge his wrong doing. Poka is just ONE of such artists to suffer this fate. How many others are there?

I plan to report the image to Facebook with a full explanation for why it’s offensive, since I cannot trust this NPP-supporting Ghanaian to do the right thing. I advise all party members, on BOTH sides of the aisle to hold themselves accountable so that these smaller incidents do not morph into SADA and GYEEDA level scandals. There must be a cohesiveness of thought and deed in any movement. MLK told us so. The SCLC was built on non-violence. Mandela told us so. The ANC was built on perseverance. What will Nana Addo or his handlers say to the sycophants who will use any means necessary, no matter how nefarious, no matter how injurious to an entrepreneurial artist scrapping for every cedi he can get in this failing economy? Who will be the next victim?

 

Have you ever had your idea stolen? Has anyone ever taken credit for your work? How did you address that violation?

  • It’s very disheartening that someone would just claim someone’s hardwork with a mere click on his PC with no repercussions. It’s about time people respected the creative property of others and give them credit when one wants to use them online. Great post

    • If there was a 10,000% option, I’d give it to you! If Hooper had the talent to scrub out the watermark, he has the talent to create his own work. We will continue to call people to task!

  • guestar

    Yes. It has happened. I have been drawing African themed superheros (based on legends of heros from different ethnic groups in Africa) for decades. One day I came across a picture I had drawn many years ago on a person’s Instagram page- a sort of “black/African pride” type page. The pic had over 1000 likes on it. That was shocking for me to see it, since it was a picture I had done and posted on deviantArt webiste almost 10 years ago . This page linked the picture source to a different page, where I found my drawing had been used, with a sort of black conscious type inspiration quote written across it, with of course the name of the owner of the page under the quote. There was no mention about the origin of picture. When I contacted the page owner, I simply stated that I was the originator of the drawing, and I would have no problem with them continuing to use my picture to promote their inspirational quotes, so long as they credited me as the artist. The owner went ballistic, and after multiple messages back and forth politely asking them to just put my name ( or just link my Instagram page to the picture), they refused. So, I and a few other people on site rightfully accused them of plagiarism, and stealing, and they subsequently deleted my photo. But for a few days after they made some posts about how angry and disappointed they were that a fellow black person called them out for using their art, accusing me of being an “unconscious” black African artist, further qualifying it by saying that they knew several white artists that have let them use their art without demanding credit.<— I was like 'Seriously'?
    Only advice, you have watermark anything that you put online.

    • Wowwww….

    • akdEE

      That’s one of our fundamental flaws. Always quick to accuse others. If they had rightfully acknowledged you, would it have come to that end?SMH. The whites agreed so what? Did they even ask you in the first place? I weep for my people. Even those claiming to fight for what is right have misplaced priorities. God help us.

  • Nana Ama

    Why am I not surprised? NDC are generally crude unlettered thugs. I find the NPP to be just as thuggish, only they tend to hide it behind ‘gentility’, often false. They are two wings on the same corrupt bird in Ghana’s politics.
    Please report this blatant plagiarism to FB because unless Poka is ready to add another goat to the herds that our judges are hoarding, he will not receive any justice for this unashamed thievery! And these are the people who want to rule Ghana? Tufiakwa!

    • If I have time this weekend I’ll show you the unofficial official response to the matter. It robs one of any confidence in this lot!

  • This goes a long way to undermine the credibility of the NPP. The piece must be taken off, Kobina Hooper must apologize and POKA compensated. I’m embarrassed to be an NPP supporter.

    • If the NPP communications team does 2 things, I will consider writing a rejoinder. But I absolutely will NEVER take this post down. That’s not honest.

      • I believe my comment was misconstrued. I meant that poka’s piece be taken off the so called ‘I am For Nana’ page. Yours is a conscious attempt to eradicate this cancer. Great post.

  • Reblogged this on kasaKOA.

  • I’ve had a lot of my blog post stolen it’s frustrating. However the most annoying happened last year when one of my posts was appeared on another page just a day after posting with someone else’s name under it.
    I asked the page to take down the post or credit it to me but they refused and ignored my comments. I took screenshots and shared it on all my social media pages and my followers jumped on them and gave them hell.
    Some of my followers threatened to sue on my behalf and that was when they finally contacted me and apologized by then the post had gone viral without my name or link to my blog.

  • You have echoed my exact sentiments when I saw the altered work because I was the first to comment when Poka posted the art work on facebook. Yes , I may be biased towards the NPP but this is bad. I love your well written and well researched work. Kudos

  • Panji

    Onyame Nhyira Wo Wai…

  • Two years ago an article of mine was published by a newspaper.with small altering of words. A friend who had earlier read my article drew my attention. I reached out to them but nothing came out of it.
    People still works every day like its cool to do it. Time for people to start suing for big cash.

    • And that’s what grieves me, Swaye. That the ONLY way to set things right in the country is to start suing. Before we know it, we’ll become as ridiculously litigious as America, where people sue for being burnt by hot coffee.

      It’s coffee. It’s supposed to be hot!

      I’m writing a second piece outlining the “unofficial-official” response to the matter. It’s laughable and heartbreaking.

  • LLB

    I don’t have faith in you too if you can’t trust our judiciary. That’s a lame excuse! Just as he is hiding behind his account you are hiding behind a few bad nuts. If you have a legal right enforce it!

    • What? A “few” bad nuts? Did you even watch the Anas expose? Did you not listen to Ace Ankomah talk about how rampant the culture of bribery is in the judiciary?

      Again: What???

  • Kwesi

    It’s wrong to take one’s work and pass it on as yours. However malaka I think you should take your time in dragging the entirety of the political leadership and especially Nana Addo into this case of plagiarism. For all you know this has not even come to his attention. Political parties are big entities with various characters (good and/or bad) in there. The action of one or a few can not be said to be representative of the whole collective and/or the leader. This is what i think you should do.
    1. Its great that you contacted Hooper to right the wrong. That has not yielded results. I think you should reach out officially to someone high up in the communications team and make your case. If that does not work, at least you will have an official response (will come in handy down the line)
    2. If 1 fails, make a case to facebook for the image to be pulled down as you already intend to.
    3. If for some reason you are still not pleased or see the image being used somewhere else then kindly gather all the evidence you can (including the official response), get a good lawyer and head to court. You mentioned in your piece about lack of trust in our judiciary but you see, that is all we have and we will have to make do with it till it gets better. The alternative is people being slighted till thy kingdom come or people taking matters into our own hands.
    We can not trust everybody to do what we believe is right. Human beings will always be human beings and would want to get away with whatever wrong they do until they can not get away with it any more. I do not think it is only an african or ghanaian thing.
    Good luck

    • Kwesi, I’m writing a follow up piece today. I think you will be shocked by what you read, because it has come to my attention that there is a SECOND image from the same artist that has be politicized without his permission…this time by verified members of the NPP social media team.

      Of course I understand that Nana Addo & co who reside in the Ivory Tower are likely unaware, but the fact remains that he’s entrusted certain people with managing that image and they have failed. This reflects poorly on the party.

  • Yaw

    Dear Malaka, you are taking the,issue out of proportion. Let the “Stealer” suffer for his,actions, not the,one,or group of people he,stole for. Social media craze. We are no doyen. But don’t take,it too personal just because a guy somewhere decided to edit one,picture, u talk as if u have something personal with the NPP. Please, focus on the “stealer “

    • Yaw. Oh, dear dear Yaw. If only this were an isolated incident. But it’s not ooo, Yaw. It’s not.

      Nothing about what has been done here has been blown out of proportion. Take your political blinders off and acknowledge the truth.

  • Taking someone s work without acknowledging the original owner is bad let’s not add politics to ithis

    • But it is political. It was used in hopes of political gain and scoring points with the public.

  • Didn’t really think of the repercussions of such an act of thievery in a manner in which you outlined them. Really tough on these creative artists. What hit me harder was the example cited with Afro pop duo Psquare. They should know better. You don’t take somebody’s creative work and disingenuously pass it off as yours. It’s disheartening. Maybe we should be testing the laws more in the courts and maybe, just maybe we will see an end to these acts. Waiting for the follow up. Great post.

  • I wrote a long post and lost it due to the silly commenting system on wp.com.

    Anyway, to summarise. This was done by an individual with no apparent endorsement from the party. I’m sad you had to change the focus of such an important issue and bring it down to the level of politics.

    Apparently, a political statement was more important for you than delivering a crucial message to you fellow countrymen. A message I have an interest in because I have seen my posts copied and pasted rather than shared in order to pass them off as original.
    The traffic to this post should tell you how important this is to the people of Ghana. Many of whom are NPP supporters who actually hated the actions carried out by this unruly thief!

    The main reason you disappoint me is, memeing is not wrong/illegal and is covered by fair use. That means the image with all it’s “garish” colors and grammar was okay until the thief (let’s not mince words here. that’s what he is) removed the “Poka” signature from the T-Shirt and signed it with his name.
    THAT was point! Not the purpose of the meme, but the stealing of credit in making the meme!

  • Malaka! Thou dost do well indeed, you fragrant and quickening breath of fresh air.

    Ghanaians are some of the most petty and unbelievably lazy- lazy people i know, how can this article not actually politically concentric? Read the post. Think about it. Remove how you feel, find the root cause of the true issue (plagiarism) in this particular matter. Look at why Hooper would do it and how he’s been able to get away with it. Follow the chronological sequence of events, look at the larger picture. Think about it in relation to you. (put yourself in Pokas shoes). Disregard the lesser issues (only if you really are able. – if you cannot, then this is not for you). Neglect to comment in a way that makes you look like the erudite pacifist (that we already have too many of). And practically address the issue. Who needs the advice? The guy committing a crime(and I do not use the word lightly) or the lady who speaks out about it. Leave Malaka alone!

    Politically correct my foot. Excuse the pun there…ah-well (or not).

    • the5thson: I could hug you and give you toffee! Your response is so refreshing. I don’t know what it is about arch bishops, politicians and party colors that causes people to take leave of their senses. If Melcom, had plagiarized someone’s work, the tone of my article would have been the same. If Tigo, Coke or Aunty Muni the waakye seller had plagiarized anyone’s work, the admonishment would be the same! It’s wrong, and that crime doesn’t change in intensity just because that’s your preferred candidate or brand or celebrity of choice committing the act.

      Thank you for looking into the heart of the issue and getting at the meat. Yours is the sort of attitude and intellect that will move us forward. Please evangelize your ways unto all men!

  • Looks like we as a people have lost our sense right and wrong. We are in an Era where the majority simply do not care

  • Wow! At times I find my copied food photos and recipes outrank me on Google. Other times I have seen my random ideas copied by my own friends who can only say “yeah but I put my own twist.” I don’t need to hear that what not what what! Thieves oh. Julo jibbo!

    • Chile. Something is going to have to change in both the culture AND our laws to protect the originators of creative work!

      Ah. Your friends too haven’t tried. Put my own twist on it indeed!

  • Eri

    M, take a look at this comment from this link. I wonder if it reflects what you meant in the article.
    https://mobile.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10153345203021658&id=652536657&fs=1

    My view on the judicial stuff: there’s not been the influx of out weighing number of good and strong willed people, so the few bad ones are getting a field day.
    If that’s the option #letsgo for it.

    Art must be respected here in this country and artist must make much money from it. I believe that.

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