Happy Independence Day everyone!
Discussing the big deal about blogging, India Uncut in a recent post, outlined what it means to blog. One of our jobs seems to be that of critic and opinion maker. Self-criticism cannot be left out.
“Blogging keeps bloggers honest. Bloggers need watchdogs as much as the mainstream media does, and the Blogosphere plays this self-regulating role. Every post you write, every errant sentence, is liable to be taken apart by a fellow blogger somewhere—especially if you write about hot-button topics like politics, economics or Himesh Reshammiya. Trust me, the criticism is never-ending, and while much of it can be superfluous, some of it can also be sharp and precise. The result of that is that you cannot slip up, and be sloppy in either your thinking or your writing.”
The food blogging world may seem less serious (unless we are talking food sustainability and its environmental implication) but here too we must fulfill the responsibilities that come with the freedom of speech and expression, a Fundamental Right enshrined in our Constitution.
I wasn’t planning to bring it up. With time you develop a thick skin and wonder if there is any point. There is a general lack of ethics in our society today which manifests itself in all spheres of our lives. It would be naive to expect the blogosphere to be exempt. There have been umpteen cases of plagiarism in the blogosphere and we have all tried to highlight it every now and then. The Net is vast and there is plenty of room to get lost in the labyrinth. On this hope hang many a blogpost.
But it being Independence Day and all…and maybe the defiance of the offender in this latest episode of unethical behaviour tipped the scales.
We are, by now, used to corporate muscle-flexing when the Biggies are confronted with plagiarism accusations from bloggers. The Times of India newspaper conglomerate probably tops the list when it comes to stealing content off the Web. We heard about Meeta’s frustrating experience in dealing with them. I didn’t even bring it up when TOI reproduced pictures from my Shrikhand post in their Hyderabad City Edition even though I was alerted that very day by a reader. What hope of redress did I have after Meeta’s ordeal? In absolute contrast stood out the Hindustan Times. They had used a picture of my gorgeous bread to illustrate Vir Sanghvi’s Rude Food column on the club sandwich a couple of years ago. I wrote (a month later – not knowing who to write to) to Poonam Saxena (Editor, Brunch), and there was an immediate acknowledgment of the lapse and the gravity of it. That she tried to blame it on the new intern who was unavailable at that moment is another matter. I received what I believe was adequate payment for the use of the photograph (40% of the remuneration was contributed towards Srivalli’s maid’s hospital treatment – the irony! For some reason the donate-for-heart-campaign page on that blog no longer exists?! ). I have also since noticed that fewer and fewer picture in the HT are without credit. The reason HT retained my respect was because they did not deny what was obviously an copyright infringement, apologised for the lapse, and made amends.
Food blogging, even if generally non-serious, is an area that interests many. Especially in India, where most homes still cook at least two fresh meals a day, there is a lot to share with our readers at large. You don’t need to be a scientist to write about food. Though it is not a disqualification, if you are one! I know more about my own food today than I did before I started this blog, all because of the scholars of culture and cuisine (one in particular) amongst us.
If I have acquired additional knowledge from this glorious Web, the Web has also made it easy for me to acknowledge the source of it. I am bound, ethically and professionally (we all qualify as writers – good or otherwise – when we write blogs!), to cite my references, to not plagiarize. For all the freedom that a recipe allows, it is still bound by certain copyright regulations. A list of ingredients may not be protected by copyright but the recipe is.
The Punjabi Chhole post is the most viewed post on this blog ever since it was featured in the December of 2007, and has notched up a respectable 62,360 hits till date. It comes up at the top on a Google search for Punjabi Chhole. I have known this for some time. A week ago a reader left a comment saying so and TH got curious and Googled. We then checked the other among the top five. The two that followed were sites that had copied the recipe, pictures and all, and republished them on their site. The Sikhchic site while giving credit is still an unauthorised reproduction. At Pallavaram’s blog Bhagya Laxmi has no qualms about copying my entire post and including a link to it at the bottom of my ‘tips’!
Below these was the post of a blogger known to me. As TH clicked and the post opened, the chhole looked uncannily like mine and I began to read the post… All was not well -this was without doubt my recipe, a recipe that I had perfected over years (the scholar friend tells us that it is not that perfect afterall – it is flawed, but very much mine!!). Yes, it was rewritten. Yes, I cannot claim copyright to a list of ingredients. But the quantity of the listed ingredients, the method of preparation including tips and shortcuts, those are not exempt; they are mine to claim. Rewriting a recipe does not make the recipe yours. If you came across a fellow-blogger’s seemingly original recipe that was exactly like yours would you not say something about the amazing coincidence?!! Or would you instead leave an innocuous comment: “Beautiful anita…I came to look at it again…”!? Of course, you did! [Could all of you, please, check your old Hawkins Pressure Cooker cookbooks to verify if my recipe appears in there as claimed by the blogger?]
Content theft is more common than we believe. It is stupid on part of a writer to take you, the reader, for granted and to think that they will not be found out. In most cases, though, it is ignorance. Every time I have found my content on another site I have tried to contact the writer, point out the impropriety while adding that they probably did not recognise it as such. Invariably, the writers have apologised and made the required changes to their posts.
We all make mistakes. Even famous writers succumb to temptation; the internet makes it easy. It also makes it easy to be found out! If you are unsure whether a recipe qualifies as yours refer to these reciperules. If you were inspired by one give credit to it, and remember an inspired recipe is very different from the original – not a true-copy (“inspired by“… means that you used else’s recipe for inspiration, but changed it substantially” – David Lebowitz, Recipe Attribution). (If you like to be inspired, well, Blog Bites at One Hot Stove is the event for you!)
Let’s not sit back anymore; speak up. I wouldn’t have, had I not had the friend I have in Manisha (just giving credit where it’s due!). If we keep quiet then we condone it; there is no neutral ground here.
Blogging has given me new friends. It has also reunited me with old ones. I finally met my school-friend Rajamma yesterday. She found me through this post where I mention how the contents of her tiffin-box have been a big source of inspiration! Yes, she was Googling herself!
This also brings us to some festivities that are overdue: another anniversary has gone by; we have been Partying four years now! I wasn’t sure if I should announce a party since I have not been very regular with the posts this past year and many of you might have veered away from the Madness. It is not a Party if old friends won’t come. Then one of you wrote in to remind me if I wasn’t forgetting something. That’s all the encouragement I needed!
What do you think we ought to bring to the Party this year? Inspire me!