Hari's Corner

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Plagiarism by the print media

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 at 08:45 IST (last updated: Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 09:12 IST)

I meant to write about this earlier. Of late, there have been a few bloggers who have had their photographs and images lifted off the internet without permission and published in a mainstream newspaper in India. Is this a stray case? While I would love to think so, the indications are that it is not.

What is alarming is the lack of education and knowledge among the editors and staff of this paper. They seem to imagine that they are entitled to use "free images" available on the internet. As far as I can understand from Sudipta's article on the issue, these newspaper have had a history of doing this while individual content producers are blissfully unaware that their copyrighted material is being filched for commercial purposes.

What should we do about it? First of all, I think that if we allow these relatively small copyright violations to go by without any action, newspapers will consider our intellectual property to be fair game for their benefit. Secondly, being aware of this issue and spreading the word will certainly help more bloggers keep a look-out for any such blatant violations of copyright in future. After all, an individual blogger might not have the power to take on a powerful media giant, but together, we can definitely ensure that such incidents don't go unnoticed in future.

It's in our self-interest to spread the word. The print media certainly ought to behave better in such cases, considering all the holier-than-thou stuff that their editors spout off from time to time. Even if they think internet images are "free" for their use, they ought to contact the image copyright holders for permission to publish in print. If they are so cheap that they are unable to pay photographers or photo journalists to produce original content for them it's their problem, but at the very least they should have respect for other people's hard work. Today it's photographs. Tomorrow they might lift off entire "free" articles from the internet for their use.

But in the meantime there are a few things bloggers can do to help:
  1. Always attribute third party images you might use on your own blogs and set an example first. If possible, write to the original copyright holder and ask for permission courteously. If by chance the original image copyright holder still asks you to remove their image, even if attributed, apologize and comply with their request.
  2. Never upload your own hi-resolution photographs to the internet directly. Always scale it down to a size where it will look horrible in print. Also keep the DPI resolution low (like 72 dpi or lower). Experiment with watermarking images so that the watermarks will be visible in print.
  3. Respect others' copyrights in the same way and don't quote other people's written material without permission and/or attribution.

Finally please use your blog to spread awareness of this issue whoever you might be. Maybe the higher-level authorities in these newspapers might sit up and take notice if enough of us write about it.

13 comment(s)

  1. Very coherent and useful post, Hari... thanks!

    Comment by Sudipta Chatterjee (visitor) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 11:02 IST #
  2. No problem, Sudipta. People have to be aware of this issue.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 11:07 IST #
  3. The UK newspapers do this a lot. www.b3ta.com runs many image contests and their pictures always end up in the mainstream media.

    Along similar lines, one of the board members edited the Wikipedia entry for a football team just ahead of a match and put in a load of jokes references - the article was reprinted almost verbatim!

    Comment by ray (visitor) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 14:32 IST #
  4. Ray, I didn't know it was a worldwide phenomenon. Maybe you should also take up this issue, because who knows who the target will be next?

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 14:41 IST #
  5. Uh.. you missed what I think I'd consider the main thing you need to do. And that is: Clearly label your blog with your copyright policy.

    If you have no "c-in-a-circle" statement anywhere on your blog, a newspaper could probably make a relatively convincing case (they have the expensive lawyers after all) that people write stuff on the internet so it can be shared, so there's an implied permission for them to rip off your content.

    If you have a clear statement that your material IS copyright (or copyleft) then it doesn't matter how expensive their lawyers are, it's an open-and-shut case and if they steal your material and publish it without consent, you can take them to court and you will win.

    And if you don't want to be quite so draconian as a simple "This is mine, hands off", there are of course a number of more permissive copyright statements available from the Creative Commons people, written by lawyers for lawyers!

    Comment by Dominic (visitor) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 15:09 IST #
  6. Dominic, on the other hand, I believe that any written or photographic or graphic material is implicitly copyrighted to its owner, unless the owner specifically allows/permits copying for commercial/non-commercial usage. I think the Law has evolved enough to understand that "publicly available" does not equal "public domain" regardless of whether that material is available on the internet. After all, they understand piracy as well.

    That is my understanding. Of course it helps to have a copyright notice like I have at the bottom of my blog. But still...

    The main point of my post is of course, that these newspapers don't respect copyrights in any case, so having a copyright notice is by no means a practical protection against content theft.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 16:33 IST #
  7. Thanks for spreading the word. Just linked to this post from my latest post.

    Comment by Shrinidhi Hande (visitor) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 16:40 IST #
  8. Hari: You're absolutely right, anything you create is automatically copyrighted.

    However, in the same way that google argue that if you don't put a "No search spiders" into your robots file, it's OK for them to cache your blog contents in their database to make it searchable, a clever lawyer could argue that putting your content online with no "No copying my stuff" notice is tantamount to saying "Go ahead and copy my stuff"

    By putting up a clear "This is MINE and I don't give you permission to republish it" notice, you eliminate any argument of implied consent and neuter that clever lawyer.

    Comment by Dominic (visitor) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 18:33 IST #
  9. Dominic, I suppose a difference could be made between search engine spiders online and human copiers who copy stuff with the specific purpose of printing without permission.

    Strictly speaking, what google did was of course illegal - but perhaps they could argue that a search engine is a service and of course, they provide a link directly to the source rather than pass off spidered content as their own.

    The big question is not the copying aspect, but passing off/misrepresenting to the public that something really belongs to you when it does not.

    I don't think any of these bloggers would be half as upset as they are now if they had been attributed. They would have been annoyed, for sure, but if the newspapers at least had the decency to point to the original source, it wouldn't be so bad.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 19:32 IST #
  10. Also instead of watermarks, most photo editors allow you to embed comments into the image. Most people are unaware of this and won't change it. By adding a comment within the photo to include you're copyright notice also can protect theft of you're images/content, etc.

    Comment by drew (visitor) on Fri, Oct 3, 2008 @ 22:12 IST #
  11. This was news to me! Can believe random net-users lifting pictures but a reputed paper! Sheesh!
    Good points you have mentioned, that could help, at least a little.

    Comment by Ms Cris (visitor) on Sun, Oct 5, 2008 @ 09:00 IST #
  12. Drew, yes, that could help, but the embedded comments have to be visible in the picture and not as a meta-tag of the image. Otherwise it's difficult to detect theft in print. ;)

    Ms Cris, thanks for your comment.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Sun, Oct 5, 2008 @ 09:06 IST #
  13. The embedded comments aren't to prevent theft, but a way to prove that the original image is yours in a sense if it is stolen. Anyone can edit the image and remove a watermark. Same for the comment, but I do believe Photoshop has a secure type comment that once in place can't be removed. Not totally sure though, been awhile since I used photoshop.

    Comment by drew (visitor) on Mon, Oct 6, 2008 @ 17:59 IST #

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