The Face of Plagiarism : 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.

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 response I got to my question asking why one of my food photographs had been used without seeking my permission to do so. The "it" that was taken in this case was my photograph which you see below.

Please understand that I'm not writing this post to vent, nor is this a "witch hunt" of any sort. The purpose of this post is to let food bloggers (and other bloggers) know that if someone knowingly uses your images without permission, that it's fair to go after them and hold them responsible for their actions.

The Face of Plagiarism : It Was There, So I took It!

(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.

The Face of Plagiarism : It Was There, So I took It!

(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.

The Face of Plagiarism : It Was There, So I took It!

(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.

The Face of Plagiarism : It Was There, So I took It!

(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 to them -

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 [email protected] 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.