These days a fashion designer is getting a lot of attention. She used images created by a Portuguese artist, mixed them up with some geometrical backgrounds and made shirts out of them. They seem to be rather successful. Instagram is full of important fashionable people wearing several of Ms K’s designs. The pitfalls of social media are that it is easily accessible, and universal, and it wasn’t too long before the artist discovered that his work was being used without permission, and someone other than him was making money on it.

Of course, being the generous and large-hearted nation that we are, many people were more than sympathetic to Ms K’s situation. What’s the big deal, they asked, if she maybe, kind of took someone’s creative work? The designer says it was a “tribute” to the artist, nobody had even heard of him before this mid-level fashion genius introduced his work to the public, so what if a few people look stylish and spend many thousand rupees buying the shirts? And then the inevitable, suicide-inducing phrase: everyone else is doing it too. This is precisely how people reacted when the very funny, very popular comedian Zaid AliT was caught plagiarizing other people’s plots for his skits. He makes people laugh, how uncharitable of some jealous, nit-picking people to point out that Zaid’s jokes aren’t his at all, that he just leeched off somebody else’s creative humour and became popular. How mean.

What’s mean, and uncharitable and downright inexcusable is dismissing cheating. Evidently the majority of our English-speaking, internet using population is not doing any kind of intellectual work—be it creative or academic—because if they were, they would know very well what kind of effort is required to make something unique. It takes intelligence, inspiration and a lot of hard work to make art, to put together an equation that explains a mathematical or chemical process, to craft a song or a short story. It doesn’t just happen out of nowhere, it is nothing like John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” scribbling formulae furiously on a window. That is the romantic notion of the creative. In real life creative work is just as difficult to make as anything else. In fact, it might be a little easier to be an accountant or a mechanic or computer software engineer; at least one’s problems would have some kind of finite solution. If you’re creatively blocked, you can do everything from howl at the moon to only eat apples on Tuesdays and it won’t help. But I digress.

There is a very big difference between inspiration and originality. In terms of fashion, there is a big difference between being inspired by, let’s say, Dolce and Gabbana using a lot of floral motifs and then deciding to feature roses in your own collection. Flowers are flowers, and as long as your roses don’t look anything like D&G’s you’re all right. Similarly, it is one thing to be aesthetically inspired by the particular timbre of Abida Parveen’s voice and quite another to start singing exactly like her, using the same material, wearing an ajrak with wild hair. You can find much to admire in “Orientalism” but you cannot use Edward Said’s thesis as your own. That is called cheating, that is plagiarism, and that is why intellectual property is a real thing, protected by laws.

People who create something original, be it an idea or art or music or technology, have the right to protect that effort. Other people are not allowed to steal your ideas and pass them off as your own. This is ethically dishonest and plain illegal. There are rules for using someone else’s intellectual property, and you have to get permission. But we don’t value originality, and we have no respect for other people’s property, no matter what it is. So with the same carelessness that we pee on roadsides, misspell people’s names and randomly pull leaves off bushes we walk by, we dismiss plagiarism. People in Pakistan get Ph.D degrees using plagiarized work and nobody bats an eyelash. People like Ms. K lift another artist’s work and pass it off as their own and make a nice pot of money and then, instead of apologizing and perhaps working out some kind of royalty arrangement, try to brazen it out by calling her cheating a tribute. And then we wonder why our country is in the situation it’s in. Hard work and honesty doesn’t seem to get you anywhere in Pakistan; there’s a reason why Axact made so much money.

The problem with cheating is that when you do it, you are taking a short cut. You aren’t pushing your own mind to do better because you are intellectually either lazy or just barren. Not everyone is cut out for originality, which is why things like royalties exist: you pay the creator for the privilege of using their work. If I want to stage a play, I have to obtain permission from the publisher to do so, and perhaps pay them too. If you use a photograph on your website, you have to find out who took the photo and then ask them permission to use it. This is the responsible, respectful, and frankly legal way of using creative property, and it disturbs me no end that in Pakistan we just don’t give a toss. It reflects on our attitude to everything else—the way we never take responsibility for anything, blaming the Indians, Zionists or mothers-in-law, and slanging each other for making “Pakistan look bad”. Anyone who makes a critical suggestion is destroying Pakistan’s reputation, as if the country were some silly teenager who people were whispering about. If we started accepting that we make Pakistan look bad by being barefaced thieves who make excuses for themselves instead of having the courage to apologize, maybe we could change. But no, we call everyone else jealous instead.