In a time where copies and duplicates make up a big part of any industry, originality is a rare feature of a work, appreciated by those who understand what it takes to create something unique and independent. Like in any other community, time and again, the literary world has been shocked by the surfacing of plagiarized works: the 1978 Roots scandal or more recently the speech made by First Lady Melania Trump which turned out to be Michelle Obama’s are quiet some examples.
Plagiarism is the “unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author” (HEC); an act of stealing all or parts of someone’s original work and passing it off as one’s own. Basically, it means to take credit for that which an individual has not personally created. It is a practice that the literary community is riddled with but one which is seriously frowned upon by readers and writers alike.
Sadly, in Pakistan, there is a lack of action taken by the authorities when it comes to plagiarism. It seems that the focus is mostly on research works and theses: since 2007 approximately 80% of all plagiarism cases regarding research works were solved. The literary industry, however, suffers still.
Not only is plagiarism a social evil but also has legal consequences. Again, in Pakistan, the law is more concerned with academic plagiarism than literary plagiarism. It involves dismissal or rustication for teachers and students, respectively. A literary author, however, runs the risk of defamation, blacklisting, rejection from publishers for all future works and more.
How Daastan handled Plagiarism Cases?
As a publishing house based in Pakistan, we at Daastan have had our share of dealing with cases of plagiarized works. In most cases, writers copy another work, word by word; in others, we see extensive use of the thesaurus. For the latter kind, it takes a sharp eye and a detailed read to weed out manuscripts that are unoriginal. A “plagiarism check” is an essential part of our editorial process; our editors judge a manuscript by its ability to stand on its own, without the help of outer influences.
While there are no qualms about being inspired by other writers (some of the best works are born that way), we strongly oppose the practice of plagiarism in literature. The beauty of literature is the perspectives it offers to readers. Behind that perspective is an author’s hard work, research and dedication. When works are copied, that hard work is disrespected. We, as a community, stand firmly against that.
The Noor vs Khizra scandal
Recently, the plagiarism incident of a book titled “The moon has my heart” has been making waves across social media platforms. It has induced the anger of the literary community as a whole but has also split us in “for” and “against” teams.
On the 27th of December, 2019, a local publishing house launched a poetry book titled “The moon has my heart” written by the Instagram influencer and poetess Khizra Zaheer. The book was in the works for some time: pre-orders, cover launches and giveaways were all set to go. On the website, the book was said to be “a rich and beautiful collection of poetry about life, love, loss, inspiration, hurt, strength, nature and family”. The author herself was receiving praise from her readers on the accomplishment of a second poetry book.
Some readers, however, noticed that the book cover for “The moon has my heart” was very similar to another book. This was the generally acclaimed poetry book “yesterday I was the moon” by Noor Unnahar—a talented 22-year-old writer who has been published by Penguin Random House. Her book “yesterday I was the moon” has received much praise from readers and critics and the book cover has won a design award by the New York Book Show!
The similarities didn’t end here. Readers who bought the book confirmed that the inside layout as well as parts of the book were copied off of Unnahar’s book. One reader said, that “most of the book was badly plagiarized. Original poems had terrible grammar. Others were heavily inspired from Noor’s book”.
The literary community came forward as a united front, dug deep and recognized the similarities between the launch ceremonies of the two books as well. Whereas another reader threatened the publisher for legal action.
While there were those who stood firmly against the blatant plagiarism and called out the publishers, some readers took a different perspective. A group of writers insisted that the book was actually not plagiarized. The book cover bore a resemblance to “yesterday I was the moon” but the content inside was different. Others argued that because it was only similar to Unnahar’s work and not exactly a copy, it did not come under “copyrights infringement”. More still, came out in support of Khizra Zaheer.
The majority, however, lay with those who did not consider this a mere coincidence. Noor Unnahar, herself, took to Instagram to talk about the case. She said, “I was informed that the cover of my book, along with the layout inside, was copied by an author. I knew them, had interacted with them when they needed help with publishing their first book.” She also said that she was, “heartbroken” but that the “support that came from the writing community has been splendid. Together, we reached the publishers of the book in question to take it down.”
The evolution of publishing industry
The support that Noor has seen on part of the literary community tells us how far we’ve come. 5 years ago, Daastan started as a publishing company, hoping to revive the dying literary industry of Pakistan; to put in our part in its rejuvenation. Seeing the kind of ferocity that the readers of Pakistan have defended an author’s work with, we are convinced that that revival is well on its way.
The community has evolved to expect the best and the original: where once, this incident might not have invoked such a strong voice on part of the readers, today it has resulted in the authorities taking action. Auraq publishers have taken down the book “The moon has my heart” from their website and further action is expected. When approached, they told us they had issued an official statement regarding the matter. The author, Khizra Zaheer, was also asked to address the situation and has recently issued her own statement through Daastan. You can read what she has to say here.
At the end of the day, however, when it comes to the standard that has been set for the publishing industry in Pakistan, it’s refreshing to see what the literary community expects of us: honesty and transparency. Daastan always strives for excellence in publishing: from our team of editors who work tirelessly on manuscripts, to our readers who keep us on our toes, we are taking this journey for the revival of Pakistani literature, step-by-step.