December 10, 2010

It Was There, So I took It!


That’s an answer I would expect from a child who was asked, “Why did you take it?” This is most definitely not the answer I would expect from an adult, but it was the one I got when I asked that question. The "it" that was taken in this case was my photograph which you see below.



Noodles Vegetable Cutlets


As food bloggers, most of us have experienced plagiarism or theft of our blog content at some time or the other. The most common way in which some “thieves” do this seems to be by scraping blog feeds and then earning ad revenues off this content.There are many different types of plagiarism but for this post I’m concentrating on plagiarism by the print media because that’s what happened to me.

Plagiarism is defined by the Miriam-Webster dictionary as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own; to use (another's production) without crediting the source”. In other words, it refers to taking and using someone else’s work without permission and/ or not giving them the credit for it. Very simply, it means stealing!

The couple of times I found my work being used without permission online, an e-mail to the offender or a comment at the concerned site worked. Plagiarism is something that even big names in the publishing business have not escaped and the recent case of Cooks’ Source using Maggie Gaudio’s recipe without her permission is an example of this.

Online plagiarism is comparatively easier to track and there are ways to do this. What is more difficult to keep track of is when text and images from online sources are used in the print media. Unfortunately, there’s also a general feeling that if something is out there on the world-wide web, then it is for the taking! I find it very difficult to accept this attitude in the educated Indian public, and its worse when well-known national publications subscribe to this view!

One has absolutely no idea who is taking what and using it where.There are innumerable instances of well-known Indian national dailies and magazines that resort to this practice of “stealing” regularly and get lucky because none of the readers realise they’re seeing “stolen” text or images.



My "paal payasam" photograph which was used without permission in the TOI Hyderabad City Edition (October, 2009)


Anita had her food photograph published in the Times of India (TOI) and another one in the Hindustan Times who settled the issue to her satisfaction. Meeta had one of her photographs “lifted” from her blog and published by the Times of India and she’s still fighting it out with them. I also had a similar experience with the Times of India publishing this "paal payasam" picture of mine in its Hyderabad City Edition which I got to know about thanks to Arundati. I wrote to them but never got a response.

This time Rachel alerted me to the fact that a photograph of mine had been published in the September edition of the Good Housekeeping magazine. I had taken that photograph of noodle cutlets for a post I had contributed to The Daily Tiffin.



My photograph (on the left) and in the Goodhousekeeping September 2010 edition (on the right)


I’m understating it when I say that I was upset that Good Housekeeping had filched my picture and published it, despite there being very a clear copyright statement at the bottom of the page from which it was taken. They didn’t have the courtesy to ask me before they did it, they didn’t even credit the picture to me and they had also removed my credit line from the picture before use!

When I contacted the Good Housekeeping and asked what they had to say for themselves, I was initially told that my photograph had come up on a Google search and that’s why they took it!! Apparently, they had never heard of copyright.

When asked if they didn’t know that they could NOT use something just because something came up on a net search, they had nothing to say. After a few mails, they then admitted that they made a mistake and were willing to print a retraction about the unauthorized use of my photograph. They were also willing to pay me what they usually paid their regular stock image agency for the images they used.



Their retraction in the November 2010 edition


I asked for a retraction to be printed in their next issue and also for damages. The people at Good Housekeeping couldn’t answer the questions I asked them to my satisfaction and I’m not sure if any action has been taken against the person actually responsible for this “theft”. From the way in which they were handling the whole issue, I got the impression that there were trying to cover up the issue and bury it within their department.



These were some of my questions.

1. Does the print media, and I’m talking about such big publishing names including the TOI, The India Today group and others of this ilk, honestly believe that if something is on the net or comes up on a Google search, then its free for the taking? By the same argument, we can all start “copying and pasting” whatever is available on their websites for our use since it’s “on the net and free to use” and don’t even have to acknowledge our source!!

2. Do they really not know that copyright means that the ownership rests with the original creator, and does not mean a right to copy? Aren’t certain publishing businesses bothered that they’re actually encouraging their staff to “steal” by not taking an active stand against it but letting it become an intrinsic part of their normal business?

3. When I asked the concerned editor at Good Housekeeping if the Google search led them to the page on which the photograph actually was, she agreed. I then asked her if her staff did not read the copyright information at the bottom of the web page about “asking first”, she had nothing to say except it was a mistake and there was no intention to steal.

4. Can you think of any other intention besides stealing, when my photograph was copied and then cropped, to remove my credit line which clearly states “Aparna@My Diverse Kitchen” at the bottom before using it?

5. When they realised just how upset I was, they offered to pay me the “usual rate” which they paid for images sourced from a stock agency. I refused to sell them my photograph and legalise their theft and insisted they pay me damages instead or I would have to proceed against them. The editor actually suggested that paying me damages was beyond their budget. Do publishing houses have a budget for remuneration if they were caught stealing?



Let’s take the case of food blogging? Has it struck anyone that these plagiarisers don’t seem to “steal” from big names in the business, whether it is recipes or photographs? It is easier to plagiarise text and images from amateur bloggers because most of the time this would never be discovered. Even if it was discovered, how many of us would (or could afford the time and expense) fight the big and powerful enemy?

Good Housekeeping met my demands and printed a retraction in their November edition saying that they were sorry they had used my photograph without permission and after some attempts at negotiation finally paid me damages.

Your ideas, posts and photographs are yours alone, unless you give permission for someone else to use them. If someone steals them, fight back and the law is on your side.


32 comments:

Ria Mathew said...

I am so happy you were able to sort it out!
I would never know if someone stole my picture!

Akila said...

Goo to know that atleast they regret their mistakes... but many people dont dear.... i too had got that kind of bitter experience....

Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets said...

Wow I really can't imagine that they wouldn't know these rules, and if the staff does not or is allowed to continue this behavior the employer should be held responsible. I'm glad you held your own and got the results you wanted and deserved. Sorry this happened in the first place.

myspicykitchen said...

Most of the time we don't even know when this big publications steel a picture and most of the time, when they are caught, they don't respond. At least in your case, they acknowledged their mistake. Good to hear that.

SV said...

I can imagine the mental agony that you might have suffered.Being new to blogging, I can understand how much effort and time you might have taken, to take good pictures and misusing it not tolerable.Its good to know that you sorted out the problem.

simply.food said...

So sad to know that there are people around that steal other peoples work. Well done for tackling the thieves.

Sathya Srinivasan said...

Sadly this happens more often than not. One of my good friends had a popular website. At one point she learned that one or more of her recipes were copied verbatim on another popular/quasi-commercial site named Vah Reh Vah (http://www.vahrehvah.com) with no credit or all credits removed from her pictures.
Queries to the chef were met by stupid responses ("Why did you steal my recipe"? Response: "Cool") and after a long fight it was eventually removed from the site (with no remuneration or apology). The experience has made her lock her website only to her close circle.
It's sad that blatant stealing (if you have time and intent to Photoshop the picture to remove the name, you are stealing) has snuffed such bright lights for no fault of theirs.

Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal said...

Wow, that is simply outrageous to do that. You got lucky that they printed that retraction, otherwise, it is really hard to fight these guys sometimes.

Sathya Srinivasan said...

PS: And I don't buy the argument that they 'found' it in Google Search for the reason mentioned above.

If they 'found' it, then the picture should have your watermark! If they took the time to copy/paste the image and then remove the watermark, at that point it crosses the realm of being ignorant to being deliberate in stealing.

Priya said...

Omg, shame on them,luckily they retracted..great..

dick said...

I am amazed that a publication that has been in business as long as Good Housekeeping has editors who are so ignorant that they don't realize the meaning of copyright and what they need to do when they see it if they want to use the material. Just boggles the mind. I guess they feel that if they use your material you should be thrilled that they did. Sorry but it just doesn't work that way. When you go to the trouble of creating your blog material and then copyright it, they should realize that you value the material and deserve to be given credit and also being paid for the use.

Sanjeeta kk said...

Good that you made them realize their mistake and got an apology from them. Wish they understand the hard work that goes behind taking great pictures.
Best wishes for all the good work.

Nags said...

this is increasingly getting worse, i should say. glad you spoke up and atleast got an apology in their mag.

s said...

i am so proud and happy that you stood your ground.I am appalled to say the least, that such a reputed mag would steal so blatantly and shamelessly.

Apu said...

Well done Aparna!! Sadly I have seen several photographs from food bloggers stolen and reprinted online without permission. What is even worse is the rather blase attitude I received from these bloggers when I alerted them to such incidents observed by me. Its great that you fought back and got GH to publish an apology.

Twinsy Rachel said...

Gud u stood ur ground and nice to hear that GH came up with retraction n damage payment unlike other big shot publishing houses.

anubhavati said...

Hi Aparna,

I am ashamed at all this that I am reading on your blog. I do hear people lifting pics and recipes from other websites ..I already think its pretty pathetic...To imagine big names like TOI and Good Housekeeping to remove the watermark and use the pics. It is very sad that they think that they can get away with it. And when we click a picture, the effort we take in the props, lighting, the utensils, background...and to cinch it in one click of a mouse....very unfair...

Shobha

Ivy said...

Sorry to hear this Aparna. It has happened to me as well many times and I am really frustrated every time having to loose so much time and effort to claim what is rightfully ours. At least you found out about it and apart from the retraction, you should insist to be paid, because they are making profits using your hard work. I am wondering if these same people are stealing our content as well. What is worse we have no means of seeing it or communicating with them.

Soma said...

:-( happy that you fought back and pursued the thing. I cannot imagine that they know nothing about copyright. Plagiarism is getting worse and it is very very disturbing, when we put in so much time into our photographs and work we do. I am really that you got them to print the apology.

Raaga said...

it seems so convenient to say they don't have a budget!

Cham said...

It is "unbelievable" saying that they didn't know about Copyright! Happy that u fought for your hardwork!

vrinda said...

Thanx Aparna for letting us know abt the copied image.Already 2 people commented saying its copied from our site,still its there..My hubby had sent a request to delete the image,lets c...Thanx again

lubos said...

Wild! I love how GH claims that the image popped up on Google so it was fair for them to use, yet went to the trouble to Photoshop out your website name. Definitely very rude and illegal.

Swathi said...

Aparna,

sorry about plagiarism.I have experienced that famous Malayalam daily used my picture of moru curry then i asked about them, they told me they got it from another magazine. Finally after two three e-mails they removed the picture but no apologies from them.
Nobody cares for any passion or hardwork we put in them. Only one aim is to steal.

Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

Love the way you handled this. It's shocking, the way they just blatantly stole your picture, even edited it! I would never have thought it possible. Makes me wonder how many other pictures are out there that none of us know about!

Ann said...

I'm shocked, I thought Good Housekeeping was one of the reputable magazines out there, so some of those lovely food pics must be stolen from other sources too...who knows. Shame on them for removing your watermark. At least they settled the issue, but that doesn't make this right.

Sunshinemom said...

I am happy you got back what was due to you - credit and damages! Bravo, Aparna!

Kris Ngoei said...

Gosh, this is every food blogger's nightmare! Bravo, you stood up for yourself, and I think everyone of us in your shoes should do the same!

Jenn said...

Wow I would never have expected this from such a large magazine!!! Good for you for standing up for yourself.

Sue said...

Wow, I'm glad you were diligent and prevailed in this nightmare! I would be very upset too!
Considering that Good Housekeeping magazine has been around "forever"and that they are a print media, I find it very far-fetched that they didn't know it was wrong(and in fact STEALING)to just pilfer your photograph without permission and payment!

Mon said...

Well said Aparna! Love that you fought it.

Vandana Rajesh said...

This is really bad with bigwigs like the TOI and Good housekeeping violating copyright. Its good to know that you fought your way through and could get them to apologize.