Saturday, March 03, 2007

The V can't search Google?

The headline for the story in today's Papermint reads "Google search: Vir Sanghvi. Results: 42,300". So a colleague actually went ahead and performed a search, quite a simple one, no 'AND' operators and guess what? There are only 34,800 results (search conducted 1722 IST 03.03.07) I know Google re-indexes its pages quite often, but a 20 percent downside? Hmm, seems a bit much, wouldn't you say? Of course, the search led me to his HT bio, which would make even the most idolising PR bio-writer cringe!
Anyway, I actually hadn't discovered this because Vir's column isn't about Google, but about copyright. While Vir makes some interesting noises on copyright issues, the noises are fairly old noises. The copyright battle in media has become far more interesting in the West. Look at the world now, digital media, DRM and the pros and cons of DRM (can't really see too many upsides, but anyway!) and Creative Commons. In fact, Creative Commons (under which I plan to move this blog fairly soon) has recently moved to Version 3.0. You cannot do an article on copyright without understanding the complexities of the digital medium. lame, decade-old answers are not the solution. I realise that we work in an industry that has to face the issue of online content-distribution and how best to deal with copyright in the age of the internet.
Though, I am pretty surprised that Vir mentioned the VN Narayanan incident - wherein Vir's predecessor at HT actually lifted an entire article (this is pre-Google mind you!) and passed it off as his own. Anyway, don't read too much into this post, I am just a mischief-monger! Plus, I reckon I have a lot of readers through feeds - and I know a lot of people have started writing in through email lately, and I'll like to thank all of you folks for writing in, but the slow-comment conundrum is something still baffles me!


Anonymous said...

It is too much to expect chaps like the fat cat editor mentioned above to understand what DRM or CC are. These mofos have a long way to go before they understand what the digital world is all about. Till then they can keep twiddling their Mont Blanc pens and sniffing truffles.

thalassa_mikra said...

Anon, you think so? I would differ. The V is very up to date on fields he chooses to take an interest in.

Since I know a bit about food journalism I can tell you that you'd have to be at least a bit digital world savvy to know the latest in truffle production and the state of Ferran Adria's foams. Either that, or he reads a shitload of food magazines.

K, no props for Bonatellis and I, who've been your most consistent commenters for a while :)?

20 box said...

CC has helped a lot but there are no legal provisions. i have read their policy and Disclaimer disclaimer

CC also conclude with this at the bottom of the license: 'Your fair dealing and other rights are in no way affected by the above.' what does that mean and what are the legal implications? god knows.

i don't think it helps me in any way to protect all my Digital copyrights, though i don't have many.

Anonymous said...

my search yielded 34,700 results so there....

Shashikant said...


20% swing is not unheard of given the number of parameters Google takes into consideration, more than 400 at last count as per some sources. Also, if same queries are fired again and again (when people clicked on that link), their approximation gets closer. In any case, Google won't show you more than 1000 results, so you can't read much into that number.

One request. Whenever you post to the braindead sites which ask you provide registration and bloodsample, I would appreciate if you provied them a link. eg.

Matt said...

Google's different datacenters are not often synchronised, and even when they are, Google is not known for counting well.

So 20% and 40 % swings too are not unheard of.

Anonymous said...

wow! would love to read more details on the editor lifting an article and calling it his own.

Renovatio said...

Google for that story anon :p

Tarana said...

In fact, when I read the story in print, I wondered what the headline had to do with copyright infringement. I am still wondering...

Anonymous said...

thanks renovatio...but you have to have a search string i guess. to be able to locate the story.

K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K said...

Bryan Appleyard, the columnist whose story was lifted had this to write soon after the event. Interesting read!

Sunday Times October 3 1999

It's the genuine article, perfect plagiarism

VN Narayanan, the distinguished editor of the Hindustan
Times, the leading New Delhi English-language newspaper,
has just resigned. A column he wrote has been exposed as
plagiarism by a rival journal, the Pioneer. Indian journalism
has been traumatised. "One of the most stunning stories in
the minuscule world of Delhi newspapers," shrieked The
Indian Express. "Such a sensitive issue. It's a terrible
experience," groaned Ajit Bhattacharjea, president of the
Editors' Guild.

"Er, whoops," muttered Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday
Times in London. It was all, you see, my fault.

The column appeared in the Hindustan Times last month
under the headline "For ever in transit". Of its 1,263 words,
1,020 were identical to those in an article of mine published
in The Sunday Times Magazine in February under the
headline "No time like the present". Of its 83 sentences, 72
were mine. Mr Narayanan even spoke of a sign he had seen
while walking through Newark airport in the United States. I
did the walking; I saw the sign. Apart from a touch of local
Indian spin in theme, detail and tone, Narayanan had ripped
me off.

BN Uniyal, who broke the story in the Pioneer, made quite a
meal of his scoop. He had plenty of material. A collection of
Narayanan's columns - which are called Musings - had been
published under the title I Muse, Therefore I Am. In the
preface he mocked those who would accuse authors of
plagiarism and wrote of taking the ideas and words of others
"to innovate something of your own". Uniyal was having none
of this. "You have not only lifted entire paragraphs and
sentences from Appleyard's article," he wrote, "but have
actually stolen all his experiences, his ideas, his reflections,
even his person and personality."

Narayanan was at first too distressed to talk but promised
that he was "going to choose an appropriate time to explain
my action to all of you". But he took my call at his Delhi
home. "Mr Appleyard," he said, "I am being massacred here.
I have been 38 years in journalism. I'm out of it now."

Good grief. What can I say? Sorry? Or maybe: serves you
right, Mr Narayanan. Or maybe even: glad you liked my
article. Lunch?

Investigating what had actually happened on the phone and
the internet turned out to be a startling experience. Indian
journalism seems to be modelled on Fleet Street circa 1965.
The switchboards are surly and lunch is serious.

"He's just gone out to lunch, call back in 3-5 hours," I was
told when I tried to contact one executive.

But finally a picture of sorts emerged. Narayanan is a
somewhat grand figure, given to insisting that he is more than
"a mere journalist". In addition, elderly editors in Delhi are in
the habit of bemoaning the low standards of their younger
colleagues. As a result, old hacks in general and Narayanan
in particular were, to use an Australianism, cruising for a

Furthermore, Narayanan had been in trouble before. A 1992
column was referred to the Indian Press Council on a charge
of plagiarism. He then said he had a photographic memory,
causing him unconsciously to repeat the words of others.

That case was dismissed as "pure harassment". Now, since
his resignation, rumours have been circulating at the
Hindustan Times that he has lifted four other articles of mine.

To me Narayanan said he had been interested in the Hindu
concept of "eternal transit" - my article was about the
contemporary sensation of constantly being on the move
without knowing where one was going. He had lectured
students on the subject and, in the process, had somehow
"internalised" my writing. It did not make much sense - had
he "internalised" my walk through Newark airport? - and he
did not say sorry, but he was upset and I sympathised.

But the next day he sent me a long e-mail apologising
profusely. He was just a hack in trouble. I've been there.

The first general point about this odd affair is that plagiarism
- conscious or unconscious - is now both easy and easily
detectable. Uniyal in his Pioneer story asked: "How could
you do such a thing in the age of the internet, Mr

There are hundreds of whole articles or fragments of articles
written by me all over cyberspace - usually with a credit, but
sometimes without. I was once sent a column from an Irish
newspaper - it was, word perfect, one of mine. But it was
under somebody else's byline. I shrugged, just as I usually
shrug at the endless internet piracy to which we are all

But there are crazed internet sites and there are respectable
publications - of which the Hindustan Times is one.
Furthermore, there are columns and columns. This article
was one over which I had sweated blood. It was the last in a
four-part series, 12,000 words in all, in which I had outlined
a personal view of the contemporary human condition. It
was an article that depended as much on the texture of the
writing as it did on any facts it contained. Ideas may be a
form of public property but the way they are expressed is
not. The article was, in short, mine and mine alone. By
putting about a third of it in a personal column called
Musings, Narayanan was, in effect, saying: it's mine, all mine.

So, desperately trying to avoid the pomposity to which
Indian journalism seems to be prone, I will say that what we
have here is at least a bad case of humbug. Narayanan
would have lost nothing by rewriting my article in his own
words and giving me credit. Why he did not baffles me as
much as it does Nilanjana S Roy, of the Business Standard,
who said that such a simple step "would . . . have allowed a
man in the twilight of his career to leave, halo intact".

I hope Mr Narayanan's enforced early retirement is long and
happy. But next time - well, it's Bryan with a "y". Okay?

Bryan Appleyard

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the time when i was in the sister publication of MahaVishnu of Mount Road, based in Delhi...that was a decade ago.... We used to all get The Hindu stickers....but the cops had no clue about the paper....Once a colleague was caught speeeding thro a red light and challaned. When he showed the press sticker the jat cop told him that he didn't care whether he was hindu or musalmaan!