Monday, 6th October 2008 : A journalist from Mint (A Hindustan Times-Wall Street Journal publication), Mr Samanth calls me hinting that he is doing a story about Plagiarism by print media and wants to note down my experiences. I told him my experiences (almost nothing more than what I’d written in my blog till that time about this incident)
Monday, 6th October 2008, an hour after above event: I noticed that TOI publishes email IDs of some journalists along with their article. I picked up 2 email IDs, mailed them explaining the issue and requesting them to give me contact details of some competent executives in TOI Chennai with whom I can take this up. One of the journalists, Suresh Kumar, was very kind enough to call me immediately (within an hour of sending the mail) and gave me email ID and landline number of TOI Chennai Resident Editor, Mr. Sunil Nair.
After seeing this mail on 6th October evening, I mailed Sunil Nair explaining the incident and asking him to investigate/verify and respond. I also added that I’m not mailing you for the sake for few rupees, but it is a question of my Intellectual property and credibility of Times of India that is at stake.
Tuesday, 7th October 2008 evening: TOI Chennai resident editor Sunil Nair promptly responds, stating
“I'm sorry for all the trouble this has caused. We usually follow a policy of acquiring copyrights before using photos from the internet and do not use material over which we do not have a copyright or license. Sometimes, photos are used from sites which permit free downloads and not otherwise.
In your case, obviously, we have erred. If it's ok with you, I could run a clarification stating that the photo used on that particular day in the story on the green corridor was sourced from your blog and that we apologise for any hurt that it may have caused. Please let me know.”
I was quite happy to see his prompt response, in which he readily accepted that there’s been an error and offered to run a clarification. This eliminated any further need for argument/proof that it was indeed my photo. May be I should have insisted on a payment, but I felt like taking it easy this time. I replied on 7th October night, stating I’m ok with the damage control approach of running a clarification. Also added: “let me know once it is published”.
8th October 2008: I had a flight to catch and some last minute packing was pending. I only glanced at the newspaper (Times of India) and didn’t read it in detail. Later I left for Binsar, where I was scheduled to spend few days at Club Mahindra Binsar Valley resort, along with a bunch of handpicked travel bloggers/writers, as a part of complementary trip for travel bloggers, sponsored by Club Mahindra.
9th October 2008, evening. After nearly 24 hours of travel we had reached Binsar. After some outdoor activities like Rock climbing/rappelling, we went back to the resort and I checked mails-I saw a mail by Satish Raghavan, one of my esteemed readers, who mailed about Times of India publishing a clarification but referring me as a lady in their Chennai edition dated 8th October. I was surprised. I hadn’t expected them to act so fast- publish a clarification the very next day of replying to my mail. But they didn’t mail me that it has been published and I didn’t notice it in time on 8th October as I was in a hurry. Else I would have updated my blog and Mint Journalist before leaving for Binsar. Anyway as it was my duty to keep the Mint journalist informed of this development (so that it can go into his article appropriately) so I promptly updated Samanth that TOI has published a clarification.
Times of India Chennai Edition dated 8th October has carried following clarification in Page 6.
10th October- Again we were busy touring around Binsar and isolated from rest of the world. I checked my mails again in the night-few comments and a mail from Samanth informed me that Mint has published an article about mainstream media picking photos from blogs and internet without giving due credit. This article had Times of India lifting my Chennai Police Car photo as main incident along with several other similar examples, including the accusations against their own home publication Hindustan Times.[Read the article online here-if you need pdf version ask me] It also had a reply from Times of India that they are “cracking down” on my concern that TOI had published my photo without permission. However, it missed to mention that TOI ran a clarification in its 8th October issue. (This news that a clarification has been published couldn’t reach Mint in time for the article, due to various factors- TOI didn’t mail me that they have published a clarification in 8th Oct issue, I didn’t notice, was away and couldn’t inform Mint in time, due to quick turn of events.)
Same day, received a mail from TOI expressing concern that Mint article mentioned “I didn’t get any reply from TOI” and had no mention of clarification. True- the Mint article had only those updates till Monday, 6th October. I didn’t have a clue that things will change dramatically within next 2 days and when it happened, it was a bit too late to prevent Mint article from going to print. I replied to this mail explaining the same and offering to run a clarification about it in my blog.
My first encounter against plagiarism has resulted in a satisfactory ending. Satisfactory because I got the credit and an apology, would have been “Good” if some payment was done. Some of my readers and well wishers advised me to demand a payment from TOI for this, but for now I’ve decided not to pursue this further due to following reasons:
1 After learning that others had very tough time dealing with TOI, I feel my case got resolved pretty easily. I was surprised by their quick response and action. I think the key is to contact right person. If I had argued with a journalist, he/she is not at all answerable to me and will not have any powers to run a damage control. Even other executives who are not related to editorial work may prefer not to respond, as it is a negative issue and no one prefers to get into trouble by replying to something they are not answerable. A journalist was kind enough to give me the correct contact details and this resident editor was brave enough to accept the error and offer a correction. If I had to deal with a stubborn and adamant person, the fight would have been much tougher. Greetings to Sunil Nair. Since it is first time I felt like taking it easy. Next time, using this experience I can take much tougher stand, if I detect someone has stolen my photographs/content.
2. After several such incidents probably my incident served as a last straw and triggered lots of debate about this issue in various forums and groups. Sudipta’s call for blogathon on this issue, intense discussions that happened at various blog posts have all created a good amount of awareness, that now bloggers/photographers will take extra precaution while uploading their photos and someone trying to copy will certainly have to pause for a while and think of possible consequences in terms of negative publicity etc. So I feel the cause is fulfilled. All this discussions might have prompted TOI to respond asap, fearing a PR disaster. Probably there were some internal pressure also to settle it asap, as Mint Journalist had approached TOI for a comment on this.
3 In my communication I’d clearly stated it is not about money, but about an intellectual property and credibility of TOI. I hadn’t been writing/blogging for money as well. So as I got my due credits (and additional publicity through mint article) am comfortable with it for now.
4 I feel the photograph was lifted from internet and added at the last moment just to fill some space. The article was not quite related to Chennai police car and the journalist who wrote it claimed that she didn’t submit the photo with it. There are over 100 such cars in Chennai- probably TOI should send someone to click few snaps of that car and keep it with them, than simply copying from net.
So with this I call an end to this for now. Thanks a lot to each and every one of you, for being a part of this mission directly or indirectly.
Also read: RK's cartoon on this issue
Feb 2009 update: Another incident of TOI violating intellectual property reported here, yet again.