Sunday, November 27, 2005

Plagiarism

My two paisa worth on plagiarism- I wasn't going to write about this, but came across this post by Amit Varma via Desi Pundit, and also this post by Jabberwock. So, I decided that I should. While one doesn’t really expect high journalistic standards from the ToI, when plagiarized film reviews appear in a publication of such high standing as the Hindu, one feels really let down.

Film reviews that appear in the Hindu are at best, glorified plot outlines, so I never paid much attention to them. Until I read this review of Alexander by Gautaman Bhaskaran (published in the Friday Review section, Feb 11 2005), which sounded vaguely familiar. It turned out to be a rehash of this excellent, excellent NY Times review by Manohla Dargis (published November 24, 2004), condensed and repackaged for the reader’s benefit.
Some passages are direct lifts, and some slightly modified.
Examples:
The following passage has been lifted verbatim from the NY times review:
"Stone has always made stories about men for whom ordinary life is impossible by accident or by choice. As a storyteller he has long made a habit out of extreme personalities, a preoccupation that during the 1990s was matched by one of the most playfully expressive styles in American mainstream pictures."
Following passage a lift, but with modifications:
NY times
“There comes the moment in the career of many directors when they are compelled to tell the story of a great man in whose life they seem to see a glimmer of their own image. Francis Ford Coppola had Preston Tucker, the automotive innovator who tried and failed to challenge Detroit in much the same way as the filmmaker took on Hollywood, while Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson each had Jesus.”
Hindu
“One would suppose that many helmers reach a juncture in their career when they begin to see a trace of themselves in some great men. Francis Ford Coppola saw a bit of Preston Tucker, the automotive innovator, in himself, while Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson each had Jesus.”

I was stunned, to say the least, and finding it hard to believe that the Hindu would publish plagiarised content. Wondered if the Hindu had some kind of agreement to publish NY Times content. But if that were true, then why was the NY Times not credited?

A little bit of investigation revealed that the Alexander rip is not a one-off incident. Bhaskaran has done it several times, and particularly blatant examples (with entire passages being lifted) are Mona Lisa Smile and The Forgotten. The NY Times reviews are here and here.

In other cases (50 First Dates, Mystic River, Troy, Aviator; NY times reviews are here, here, here and here) stray sentences and phrases make their appearance in Bhaskaran’s reviews. These, perhaps, were unconscious influences. But that’s not an excuse, and as a reviewer, isn’t it your responsibility to prevent that from happening?

Bhaskaran’s been reviewing films for the Hindu for 21 years, according to his website. Why would someone so senior stoop to plagiarism? Did he really think he’d get away with this? That no one would figure it out? How dare he underestimate his readers like that?

Perhaps I’m being naïve by expecting writers/reviewers to be original. I ought to have known better.

But I still do feel very strongly against plagiarism. That’s why I’m writing this post. To let the Gautaman Bhaskarans of the world, that no, they do not get away with it. Not always. I suppose blogging is the only way to bring this to the notice of people with views similar to mine, people who still care about journalistic ethics and standards (assuming of course, that this will be read).

Update: This post on Sambhar Mafia

Update: This post.




57 comments:

Chetan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chetan said...

Great work. Way to go. Thanks for providing his website address as well. He has his email listed there gautamanb@gmail.com and we should all mail him this piece and ask for his response. Why don't you change your settings to allow readers to mail this piece. It would be much easier that way. Let's give them a taste of Blog Power.

I think with so many blogs going hammer and tongs after such plagiarised articles finally the Indian media will be forced to be accountable.

Raviratlami said...

The hindi news paper Dainik Bhaskar too has jumped, and in a style! See- http://hindini.com/ravi/?p=132

Squared said...

OMG! Even Hindu!? Great find.

Übermaniam said...

It takes a very strong man, and a very hungry man, to not plagiarise. Even more so, in the age of easy access to too much information. Going hammer and tongs after someone so senior reveals a lack of compassion on your part. Do you really think it matters whether a film review is plagiarised? How important are film reviews? Are they worth taking off on a senior journalist as you have? I don't think so. Yes, I am an insider. I just think you ought to think about this: how many people in this world don't plagiarise? You bloggers get some silly kicks taking off on MSM. That said, I agree plagiarism is wrong. But it's not a crime. Hmm...come on, hit me. cheers, ever the contrarian.

Übermaniam said...

Very nice blog. Very nice writing. Very original tone of voice.

Anonymous said...

to daily unusual,
I'm a bit amazed that you can defend incidents of plagiarism here. Let me tell you why I think, it's reprehensible:

-You mention that it's a hard thing to plagiarise in "the age of easy access to too much information". Well how hard is it to write a few words of acknowledgement at the end of the article? Be inspired by all means, but if you're lifting a paragraph, for heaven's sake, mention where you're lifting it from

- You question whether we need to make a deal about film review saying that "Do you really think it matters whether a film review is plagiarised". Like hell, it does. A well established film reviewer has years of critique and involvement before he can be called up on to review movies. Film reviews, like any reviews, influence the film industry. Taking the role lightly is a travesty to the power of media.

- You haven't mentioned the legal, intellectual property angle of this entire deal. Stealing ideas in such a blatant fashion leaves you exposed to legal damage not to mention a loss of credibility. From now on, I will skip whatever this gautam chap has to write...

- You accuse the original post of a 'lack of compassion'. Brilliant! I wholeheartedly commend him on exposing this rot. In today's age more than anytime else, we look to newspapers for original, honest writing. If we wanted to read a NYT review, we don't pick up a Hindu. Also, have you noticed how ugly and discontinuous Gautam's reviews read?

cheers,
SK

Mridula said...

TDU, how would you react to someone lifting from your blog?

Vijay Krishna said...

Really, this is a stunner. I cannot believe that people resort to such blatant copying! (plagiarism is too dignified a term)

Anirudh said...

Shit! This is really disappointing. The Hindu was one paper which I had great respect for. I'm quite certain the editors will correct this if they are told about it.

TOI- I no longer consider it a newspaper. For wiping dog-shit, it is probably quite useful.

Anirudh said...

I agree with SK. Of course, one uses stuff somebody else has written. But one can use it within quotes and acknowledge the source.

Mridula said...

Well, I certainly wrote an email to the editor. I am sure there would be others. Let us see what they have to say, someone will surely get a response. Anyone interested in writing to the newspaper can do so at:

thehindu@vsnl.com

Anonymous said...

Re: The Daily Unusual's comment on compassion and not going after a senior professional.

It might be pertinent to note that TDU a.k.a. Avinash Subramaniam, besides being a notorious blog troll who seems to have a grudge against any blogger better regarded than himself (i.e., the entire blogosphere), is also a low level employee of the Hindu group in Chennai, writing captions at the sports desk or something like that. When he's not ranting on other people's blogs about how blogs are too self-important, and how they need maninstream media, he slanders women who have shown the good sense not to be attracted to him.

Ignore the gentleman.

Anonymous said...

Apologies. I also meant to say "good work, Nina!"

-(the previous) anonymous

Anonymous said...

It just adds to my rant about the de-generating quality of THE HINDU, about which just recently I wrote a post in my blog (http://ahambaavam.blogspot.com). Pity, we are such a big democratic country, no press control, no censorship, still we do not have a single quality national newspaper; the least we can expect is either true writing or atleast credit fpr relevant places from where the content is being lifted.

Anonymous said...

come on, TDU...are you competing for "humourous comments in blogs" award or something like that?
compassion for age and experience --- ha ha ho ho.....regardless of age, true professional is always regarded high, whereas a pseudo-professional gets mauled!

Nina said...

Chetan, Squared: thanks! have changed settings. Remains to be seen what the Hindu will do. Doubt any action will be taken, considering the reviews were published so long ago.

Raviatlami: thanks for the link, but my hindi is not too good. was read with much difficulty!

Mridula: Let's see wait and watch how the Hindu reacts.

Vijaykrishna, Anirudh: Tell me about it!And I think the reviewer is more to blame than the paper itself. They probably publish his stuff on good faith. But still one feels let down.

SK: thanks for the support! I completely agree with you.

Anon: Thanks!


TDU: I don't understand how you can condone plagiarism, whoever it may come from. Or how many people are doing it. It’s precisely attitude like this that allows people to cheat without feeling guilty. Clearly you don’t much care for professional ethics. Plagiarism is a quite a serious offence.

And you talk about compassion?? What has compassion got to do with it? And as you point out, this is just a blog. WE bloggers (what are you then? Oh sorry, you’re a journalist who blogs. That makes you special. Ofcourse, my mistake) get ‘silly kicks’ from taking on the MSM. So how then, is what I write going to affect a SENIOR journalist? I didn’t know that seniority gave anyone license to be unethical. Would that apply to senior, um, let’s see, politicians as well? Or only to journalists? Let’s excuse all the senior politicians out there, absolve them of all corruption charges. Why? Hey, come on have a little compassion, they’re such senior people after all. I think Bhaskaran’s seniority is what makes it so bad.

So what exactly is your point? What, according to you, gives Bhaskaran license to plagiarise, what makes him so worthy of our compassion? His being a writer of ‘unimportant’ film reviews, or is it his being a senior journalist?

What is important then, according to you? Op-Ed columns,for instance? Or sports? So if Bhaskaran were a writer of Op-Ed /sports columns, or whatever else you deem important instead of film reviews, and happened to be a rookie, his plagiarism would be less of a crime?

Films may not be important to you, but they are to me. And clearly to Bhaskaran too, considering he makes a living out of writing about them.

I agree, the temptation to plagiarise must be very hard to resist. But why then, has the Hindu employed Bhaskaran as film critic, if not to come up with his own views on films? They may just as well print NY times reviews, right?

Nina said...

anon, er the final one: heh heh

Nina said...

ahambaavam.blogspot.com: agree with you.

Anonymous said...

For those defending plagiarism in any of its forms, I have only this to say. Most of us love films. Some love it and review it. If the reviewer watches a film and isn't inspired by it or inspite of it to come up with 200 original words to describe it, he / she shouldn't be reviewing movies for a living.
Everything else (the reviewer's age, experience, ability, seniority) is immaterial.

- Ajay Shankar (ajaxus@gmail.com)

Abi said...

Nice work, Nina! Plagiarism is something that I just could not have imagined happening in the main pages of the Hindu.

The Metro Plus pages have all kinds of junk; it is possible that these pages do not go through a strict editorial process.

But plagiarism in the main pages, in the newspaper and magazine?

You have really done a wonderful job of convincing people. You certainly have convinced me.

Supremus said...

Ha Ha!

Everyone seems to have jumped into finding who's plagarizing and who's not. Maybe the blogosphere should spearhead a movement like i2fs (which lists all plagarized music) and collectively post all plagarized content.

Infact, its not such a bad idea - a collective blog for just posting plagarized media.

Nice post - made for a nice read!!!

Suyog

Venkat said...

Good Work! I have written about this in my Tamil blog;

http://domesticatedonion.net/blog

I checked Gautaman B's website. He says "No domain experience is worthwhile unless it connects to the larger picture.".

Thanks Nina, for connecting us to the larger picture and making it worthwhile.

ravi srinivas said...

only an idiot will do so. in these days accessing nytimes , for that matter, even journals on film studies is possible.both the hindu and the writer owe an explanation
to the readers and to ny times.
the best solution would be to acknowledge that there had been
blatant copying and to stop publishing future reviews by GB.
the issue can be taken up with press council of india.you dont
a reviewer to do this, a xerox machine can do a better job :)

Ajay said...

that some one as senior as GB did it makes this all the more revolting...

Anonymous said...

The Hindu in the recent days contains more junk and the filmi articles. The standard of Hindu is already gone down. Thanks for pointing the new act by Hindu. Shame on the Newspaper and the writer in particular!

Anonymous said...

If you look at the comments, most of the dismay comes more from the shock that it happened to the Hindu than actually what happened! That's interesting.

It seems that the Hindu as a pure unadulterated 'brand' is going through a much needed correction

cheers
SK

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

There is one simple explanation for why they plagiarise (I would use the word 'steal'): These writers think they still live in the pre-Internet era, when copies of NYT, etc. were available only in offices of big newspapers. Which is internet-illiterate why V N Narayanan gleefully copied Times columnist Bryan Appleyard, only to lose his job. But papers somehow seem to spare reviewers. Plagiarism is worse that theft: you are trying to steal someone's mind.

Nina said...

abi, venkat, supremus: thanks!
ravi srinivias: I doubt the Hindu will do anything about this.
Anon.: Yes, standards are dipping. Typos, grammatical mistakes, this...
Bishwanath: I agree, it's general complacency that makes reviewers/columnists plagiarise. The general attitude must be - Who's going to read the NY Times in Madras? And the fact that English movies release here a few months after in America also helps. So even if someone does read it, now who's going to remember what the NY Times critic wrote 3 months earlier? So I'll happily plagiarise, no fears of getting caught.

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

Nina: I don't think it is complacency alone. In my opinion, such writers (especially reviewers who want to look like authorities on their subject) are eager to sound elegant and often take the easiest way to dishing out a 'brilliant' copy: plagiarism.

Plagiarists-gone-unnoticed and would-be plagiarists, beware! Nina is here!

Nina said...

Bishwanth: I should've said complacence is what makes writers plagiarise with impunity. The motivation is of course, to sound elegant/inofrmed/insightful, without having to do much work.
And you make me sound like some sort of vigilante, ugh!

Ravi said...

I am a huge Gautaman Bhaskaran fan and a dyed-in-the-wool Hindu fanatic, and this is shocking , to say the least!
Hope it is ok to link this post

Nina said...

Ravi: Please feel free to link/email this post.

शक्ती said...

Great work! maybe they should hire you instead - really. anyway i've linked your post on my blog so the great hindu tradition can be exposed far and wide.
cheers.

vilakudy said...

It is shocking to say the least. It was always a pleasure to read and enjoy the Friday Review section of the Hindu. Especially articles by Gowri Ramnarayan and Gautaman Bhaskaran.(Yes, there are so many others). But these two were class apert. Though I always loved the former's style and elegance, the latter's simplicity caught my attention. Anyway, whatever happened has happened. Let us not be vindictive. Let us not forget his contributions. Anyway, he has written excellent pieces on Indian cinema, which can't be copied from NYT. Let us give his some time to 'recuperate'. But truly, I never imagine a person of such quality writing could resort to such cheap tactics. And leave the Hindu and Ram alone. After paying such huge salaries, the employer can only trust his employees.

Nina said...

Vilakudy: My intention is not to be vindictive, and I don't think I have been. I've expressed outrage at Bhaskaran's lack of ethics. And yes, you're right, The Hindu probably published his articles on good faith.

vilakudy said...

I was not blaming you. Was blaming the bologging community who at the drop of a hat tears apart whatver comes on the way. You have probably discovered a great thing. Keep up the good work.

Anirudh said...

Vilakudy,

I am sure Bhaskaran has done some good, original work. But plagiarism is wrong. Period.

vidyanjali said...

Plagiarism is for sure a very dangerous trend in the media, only rendered easier in the internet era. One can understand if two writers "co-incidentally echo similar ideas" or even "get inspired" but lifting a piece in verbatim from another source and then claiming it to be one's own is just too much...

When I was wroking with RITZ magazine in Chennai, my first job and part-time, while in college, a friend of mine had helped me to add more details in an article and edited some parts of it too. I insisted my editor later that she give credits to both of us and not just myself... Writers should surely give credit to the source from which they take their material.

M glad you pointed out this breach of media ethics by the writer of The Hindu. Good job!

Übermaniam said...

Lol.

Anonymous said...

Get a life u idiots

GB

Nina said...

GB: Is that all you have to say?

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina,

That is an incredible post. It is an eye-opener for several persons including journalists like me.

It prooves that no one should take his reader for granted. And there can be no substitute for hard work.

Sorry I have to remain anonymous at this point.

Anonymous said...

There are others plagiarising in that bastion of credibility. Another senior award winning journalist in one of The Hindu's sister publications was asked to leave on account of proven plagiarism. Fallen standards indeed!

depalan said...

El nina!!!. Gr8 work that one. Dustbin self proclaimed godmens et al honchus and other godfathers. Yoh colossul.
www.depalan.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

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bueno adios.

Rajaram said...

Wow, reading this and then doing a search on google for GB and Plagarism returned me this!!!

http://www.hinduonnet.com/2000/12/03/stories/1303067b.htm

Look who's talking about plagarism!!!

Übermaniam said...

It might be pertinent to note that this author hasn't been outed for worse crimes than honesty: Something that hasn't been touched upon in this vituperative outing by the lady/gent/i'm not telling.

Übermaniam said...

Ubermaniam is Avinash Subramaniam and other things. The one thing he is not is a rebel without a cause.

Anonymous said...

It might be pertinent to note there is something utterly sinister about being accused of all kinds of things by someone who hides behind a set of punctuation marks because the said gent/lady is too afraid of being exposed for who/what he/she really is. Rest in pieces.

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Anonymous said...

Not only does Avinash Subramianiam defend plagiarism by others, he does it himself!

I got an email from one Namita Singhania:

Dear Mr Hoyt,


I read Motoko Rich's front page article ('In E-Book Era, You Can't Even Judge a Cover') on no longer being able to judge a book by its cover in the digital era, with pleasure.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/books/31covers.html?scp=4&sq=MOTOKO%20RICH&st=cse

The story, as you may recall, was on the front page of the newspaper, on March 30.

It was with much less pleasure that I read a version of this article in a well-respected, Indian news magazine called Open. The column was called 'Book Matters' and appeared under the byline of a reporter called Avinash Subramaniam in this week's edition of the magazine, dated April 10.
http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/www/book-matters

NYT:

'Bindu Wiles was on a Q train in Brooklyn this month when she spotted a woman reading a book whose cover had an arresting black silhouette of a girl’s head set against a bright orange background. Ms. Wiles noticed that the woman looked about her age, 45, and was carrying a yoga mat, so she figured that they were like-minded and leaned in to catch the title: “Little Bee,” a novel by Chris Cleave. Ms. Wiles, a graduate student in nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, tapped a note into her iPhoneand bought the book later that week. Such encounters are becoming increasingly difficult.

Open:
'I was on a bus last week on my way to the library (yes, those things still exist), when I spotted a quiet attractive woman reading a book whose cover I couldn’t take my eyes off. (No, really, the cover was bewitching.) A little later into the ride, I discreetly moved myself up a few rows to the seat in front of her and gleaned the name of the book without bothering the lovely lady one bit. Once I got to the library, I found the book and brought it home with me to read. The title of the book with the visually arresting cover: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson.' Sadly, close encounters of this kind will become increasingly difficult in the future.


[contd/ in next comment]

Anonymous said...

[contd. from previous comment]

NYT:
With a growing number of people turning to Kindles and other electronic readers, and with the Apple iPad arriving on Saturday, it is not always possible to see what others are reading or to project your own literary tastes.


Open:
Sadly, close encounters of this kind will become increasingly difficult in the future. With a growing number of people buying fewer books and many turning to devices like the iPad and Kindle, it’s not always possible to discover what others are reading or cleverly project your ‘fine’ taste in books for the world to admire.


NYT:
The music industry went through a similar transition when digital music devices arrived, but it has pushed back by finding fresh ways to display CD cover art on the Web sites where the songs are bought and the iPod screens where they are played. Publishers have already had some experience tailoring book jackets for the digital world, since so many people now buy even their print copies online.

Open:
the music industry went through a similar shake-up (when digital music devices took the world by storm) and found a way to counter it. They, for instance, evolved methods to display CD cover art more prominently on sites where music is bought and on screens in the digital devices people use to listen to and communicate their musical leanings.

As you can immediately tell the reporter has not only copied the spirit behind Rich's story, but plagiarised the entire first paragraph with only minor changes, for example, changing 'subway' to 'bus' and the book in question from 'Little Bee' to 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.'


Every subsequent paragraph copies ideas from Rich's story. Examples of this include the fact that covers are a valuable advertising tool, that they allow readers to project their interest and level of intellect, and that the music era underwent a similar challenge with the advent of digital music devices.


Best wishes,
Namita Singhania

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OMFGITSROHIT said...

Great work. Really.

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