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The creative versus Prudential Uganda

The job market can’t absorb all of us and we are urged to be entrepreneurial. These are some of the things that happen when we try.

As a freelance writer and editor, one of my jobs is pitching ideas and products to companies and people. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it does not. In the case of Prudential Uganda, it did not go very well indeed.

In a meeting with Nashiba Nalubega of Prudential Uganda on Feb 19th 2020, I pitched the idea of an external newsletter for their clients. She was agreeable to receiving my pitch but declined for me to copy her boss (who had introduced us) in the communications, claiming it was unnecessary.

I felt there was no harm in this as I knew her personally from a previous job. Later I learnt from her that she preferred WhatsApp communication. Not a single email or phone call I sent her regarding this proposal and a mockup up I created was answered. She later acknowledged receipt, via WhatsApp.

I have since erased our chats, but so shocked was I by her response to my email via WhatsApp, that I forwarded that to a friend.

They loved the ideas. To mean that she had shared this with someone.

We discussed money briefly and she said she needed to talk with her team and get back to me. And that was the last I heard from Nashiba Nalubega. Until of course a few weeks later on April 20th, when I received an email from herself and 2 other colleagues, presenting me with an external client Newsletter from Prudential Uganda. They had gone to some lengths to change the sections but it was clear I was the source.

I wish I could say this was the first time something like this had happened to someone like me.

A photographer is currently in court, seeking compensation from a large company that ran his photos for months without paying him. Many others have given up on bringing companies to book.

The creatives I spoke to prefer to have their names withheld for fear that this will compromise future jobs from the very companies that have stolen from them. In some cases, companies simply take work and use it. The creative is then tasked to hire a lawyer to chase them to get paid. The next hurdle with telling such a story is that these companies are huge advertisers in the major media. Indeed some of them are part of major media.

Some facts Prudential Uganda was working with.

1. I had no contract. 2. You can’t copyright an idea. 3. The absolute certainty that one lone writer could do nothing to them.

I hired a lawyer to write to them with an intention to sue. They responded with their own letter which said; there was no formal engagement, the information I presented was in the public domain anyway, and something interesting-they said that said they had in fact always had the idea of  a Newsletter floating about the office as far back as 2019 and that I had offered to ‘improve’ that Newsletter. How I could offer to improve something I had never seen or heard of baffles the mind.

Their letter also mentioned that they would like to solve the matter amicably, so we arranged a zoom call. Their lawyer said it was too short notice (3 hours to) to have Nashiba on the call. As a result, their lawyer could not speak to certain things only Nashiba could answer. She asked my lawyer if the law indeed protected ideas and if I could claim protection for an idea. In the same breath, she said that Prudential already had this idea before and so I could not claim protection for it. She did not see the irony. As far as my compensation was concerned? She felt I was owed nothing.

I ran out of cash to keep paying my lawyer and was just about to give up when I found another lawyer, free of charge. After telling him this long tale, he said ‘First of all I’m sorry this has happened to you.’ Until he said this, it had not even registered that I wanted an apology.

I’m not a legal maestro but this was part of my take away from my conversation with him.

The copyright law of Uganda does not require me to have a contract to own copyright nor for me to register anything. I am copyright owner by virtue of creating something.

While it doesn’t protect ideas, it protects the expression of ideas reduced into form. Remember that mock up? If there is one thing you a creative should take away from this, it is that. Express your ideas into form. A proposal is not enough. 

 When I asked the new lawyer about their response about the information was in the public domain, he said the fact that I have an email with my product sent to them BEFORE their ‘own’ Newsletter and that she had confirmed receipt, buys me protection. In short, they owe me. He also said; at the point at which I had a meeting and sent emails, Prudential Uganda had ‘reasonable responsibility’.

He said that I did have a claim and urged me to write them one more time; show the journey, attach all screen shots and deliver a hard copy. I did all that that and even found a way to their office in town in locked down Kampala. I sent an email to both their lawyer and Nashiba’s boss to confirm I had delivered the envelope. Neither responded.

While this could go to court, the legal fees that Prudential Uganda would simply scoff at, would drown me.

I have been writing for 13 years and I shudder to think that 13 years from now, companies are still going to be hiding behind their size to steal ideas from people. To me it is pretty simple; if someone shows you something and you like it, you pay for it. If you can’t, don’t steal it.

However to prevent this from happening to me, I am advised to walk into a pitch meeting with a Non-disclosure agreement.

I can’t afford to drag Prudential Uganda to court but I think I owe it to my own sanity and to other creatives walking into their doors and other doors to bring this into the open.

It’s really interesting to me that for a company that touts ‘Tuli naawe’, ‘We’ve got your back’, not a single person in the room the day they chose to coopt my work, put up their hand up to say, ‘This is not right.’

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Written by Anne Kirya

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