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Friday, January 21, 2005

Plagiarism in the Indian blogosphere

Update (May 27, 2005): I'm replacing the protagonist's name in this story with [bleep]. He's moved on, and I don't see why his past should haunt him forever.

Final update: This matter is resolved. Please read [Bleep's] apology.]

A few hours ago I was doing a vanity search on Technorati to see which sites have been linking to me recently, and I suddenly got this strong sense of deja vu with a post that I read. It referred and linked to me, but the words seemed eeriely familiar. Then I realised with a start that the post [dead link removed; was at http://www.[BLEEP].com/2005/01/racism.html] I was reading was the same – in fact, it was verbatim – as a post that Shanti Mangala, a popular Indian blogger, had put up a few days ago. The plagiarist was some guy in San Jose called [Bleep] [dead link removed; was at], a fellow brazen enough to put his picture on the right panel of his blog.

I began typing a mail out to Shanti, when the thought struck me: what if his other posts are copied as well? I picked phrases from each of them and began googling them and, to my astonishment, every single one that I googled was copied from something or the other. Verbatim, mind you. Not paraphrased, not quoted from without attribution, but copied and pasted. I included those links in my mail to Shanti and, as I was about to send the mail, ccd all the Indian bloggers I have had any kind of personal communication with. I thought this was a larger issue than just one [Bleep] – any of us could get ripped off at any time, and I didn't know what we could do. A solo blogger with no resources can hardly sue another one, especially from across a continent.

Yazad, MadMan, Gaurav, Dilip, Ravages, Ravikiran, Ramanand, Anita, Kiruba and the media veteran among us, Pradyuman, all replied with a variety of suggestions. Some of us wanted to blog about him on all our blogs, cross-linking furiously to each other, ensuring that whenever anyone ran a search for this fellow on any search engine, our pages about his plagiarism would have the highest page rank. Some of us wanted to send a cautionary email to him, asking him to remove his posts, or to apologise and attribute them. Our blood was boiling, and we took about a day to decide, before we settled for the second course of action. Shanti shot him a mail. We waited 24 more hours. Nothing happened. Shanti put up a post exposing him. MadMan emailed his other victims. And now, one by one, we are going to write about this.

[Bleep] will get his due desserts – I have no doubt about that. But I worry, for the sense of deja vu I got when I read [Bleep's] post was not just because I had read those same words elsewhere, but because I had seen this phenomenon before.

A couple of years ago, after the 2003 Cricket World Cup, a writer from India's biggest newspaper wrote an article that lifted large passages of text, with no attempt at paraphrasing, from two articles in the Guardian, one of which was written by a colleague of mine, Rahul Bhattacharya. Rahul wrote to the newspaper to complain. Nothing happened. My boss at Wisden Cricinfo called the sports editor of that newspaper to compain. Nothing happened. We then found out that people on the desk of that newspaper had caught this fellow in the past, but their complaints had gone unheeded.

Then the other writer whose piece had been lifted wrote a letter to the publisher of the newspaper. He – the other plagiarised writer – was white, and a fairly well-known name among British cricket writers. The plagiarist was sacked.

Am I alleging apathy towards plagiarists in the Indian media? I am. Another so-called journalist, who works for a Delhi newspaper, wrote a book about India's cricket tour to Pakistan last year, which included huge chunks of copy-pasted text from reports by a number of journalists, including colleagues of mine. The editor of that newspaper was informed. The fellow still has his job, and did not even get a warning. A book that was recently released was composed, almost entirely, out of text lifted from the Cricinfo section, All Today's Yesterdays. The book is displayed prominently across bookshops in India, despite a complaint to its publisher. And these are just examples from my limited experience in the company where I work. I am sure there must be many more.

It is almost a pathology. These gentlemen copy with impunity, not bothering to paraphrase or to hide. It is as if they suffer from the self-deception, after they have done their filching, that the words now belong to them, and so they do not worry about getting caught. I am sure that until they are exposed, they sleep well at night. And they probably become this way because they start with something small. An idea for an article; then a clever phrase or two; then quotes, paragraphs, passages; and then whole articles. If their progression is stopped early on, they would not go further. But every small theft they commit is excused or overlooked, and in that excusing, that overlooking, is the implicit message that it is okay.

Well, it is not okay. We in the Indian blogosphere are most vulnerable, because we do not have institutional backing, and we have come together to decide that we will take a zero-tolerance policy towards any plagiarism against us. We will act as one to expose the plagiarist, and bring him to public shame – for we do not have the resources to sue. We will google phrases from our work – perhaps via an automated program – regularly to catch such instances, and we will act in concert. We will not let anyone get away with this.

Update – Fellow bloggers weigh in on this issue:
Copy Cat by Shanti Mangala
Stealing content for your web site - The [Bleep] way by MadMan
An Announcement by Ravages
Plagiarism by Arun "Quizman" Simha
Right to Copy by Gautam Bastian
Mirror, mirror, on the wall by J Ramanand
Ignore [Bleep]? I think not! by Gaurav Sabnis
Punishing Plagiarizing by Pradeep Ravikumar

The last big case in the Indian media was when "noted film critic" Nikhat Kazmi was caught plagiarising Roger Ebert. Here are reports from the bloggers who wrote about it, Jai Arjun Singh and Hurree Babu.

Update 2: See this. Now, see this. The second, of course, is the copy - compare the similarity in how the template is organised, especially left-panel design. (I found this via Anirudh's post on this. He was also ripped off!) [Action has been taken against this particular plagiarist, and the entire blog has been removed, so that link won't work.]

Update 3: Suman Kumar needs our help, he's also been ripped off. [Suman has resolved this, and the link is a dead one now.]

Update 4: Rajesh Advani has been suffering for a while now.

Latest update: [Bleep's] explanation.
amit varma, 11:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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