I had an interesting experience recently involving The Times of India (TOI) and one of the stories they published on their website. The story was entitled “Zila Khan and Khurshid’s Sufi Connection”. The story related to the concert in Bangalore, hosted by D.P.S. Whitefield, where Zila Khan performed along with the fusion band Agam and other artists with Coke Studio @ MTV. As some of you may know I put up photographs of this concert on my blog. Well it seems TOI rather happily took one of the photographs I published, cropped it (it looked horrible!) and then put it up on their website along with the story, which they published on June 25th 2013. No credit. No authorization.
So I contacted TOI through the feedback mechanism on the bottom of the page containing the story and sent them the following response:
I have encountered a page on your website regarding a recent concert that took place in Bangalore where Zila Khan performed. You have published a photograph of Mr. Salman Khurshid on stage with Zila Khan.
I believe this photograph was taken by me and was published on my blog https://khurshidzafar.wordpress.com. You have neither asked my permission to use this photograph nor have you credited me for its authorship on your site.
I have provided a clear disclaimer regarding copyright on my blog, which reads as follows:
“Content appearing on this blog is the intellectual property of Zafar Khurshid, except where otherwise credited, and is available for use for commercial, non-commercial and/or educational purposes, provided prior authorization is asked for. Any use of the material appearing on this site without prior authorization or license, subject to applicable statutory exceptions, may constitute infringement.
Where authorization is given or use is otherwise permitted, the author still reserves and asserts all moral rights including the right to be identified as author in the form of name and original source of the material. Suggested format – (Zafar Khurshid, Musings of an Eclectic Soul, linked to https://khurshidzafar.wordpress.com or specific URL of content)”
I am disappointed that you have chosen to, either willfully or negligently, disregard my intentions regarding my Intellectual Property.
While I am not prohibiting the further use of this photograph, I must insist that you credit me with authorship of the photograph on your site. While I do not insist on monetary compensation, in this instance, please be advised that I would consider this a gesture of good faith.
I would also encourage you not to take such actions in the future without due permission from myself or any other author making his work available to the public for non-commercial exploitation.
I hope to hear back from you soon.
Not knowing how long it might take to get a response through this mechanism, the same day, being the 26th, I also called TOI’s main switch-board and got a number for their online team. I spoke to a representative and informed him of my grievance. He at once said he would take down the picture. But this was hardly the point. My complaint wasn’t that they used the photograph, but rather that they simply chose to ignore someone else’s copyright and moral rights, either willfully or negligently, and use something they found online as they pleased. Should this not be the case, and they in fact made all attempts to identify the author (which I’m sorry I find dubious since I put up the photograph the day before they used and they were not made available anywhere else until publication on my blog), I would still ask them for some showing of attempts at due diligence. So I made it clear to the man on the phone that while I was not insisting on them removing the photograph, I wanted an acknowledgement of the fact that they had simply appropriated my Intellectual Property, as well a credit under the photograph, should they decide to continue using it. I was told that I would be contacted once he had a chance to speak to his Web/Media (I forget which) Development Team.
On Saturday the 29th, having had no response I sent them the following message, once again through their feedback page:
A few days I contacted you regarding the story published by you online entitled “Zila Khan and Khurshid’s Sufi Connection”. Accompanying this article was a small photograph of Mr. Salman Khurshid and Zila Khan, along with one other person.
I stated in the feedback I sent earlier that this is my photograph, published on my blog https://khurshidzafar.wordpress.com and was cropped and used without my permission.
I also spoke to someone from your online team on the number (011) 39843659 and was told that they would get back to me once they had spoken to someone in the Web/Media Development Team. I clarified over the phone that while I am not inclined to ask for the removal of the picture I do require you to credit the source as well as acknowledge the act on your part, whether done willfully or negligently, infringing my rights under the Copyright Act 1957.
I am disappointed that it has been 2 days and I am yet to hear back from you. Kindly reply at your earliest convenience.”
On Monday, 1st of July, I called them up again and this time I was told to send an email regarding my complaint to email@example.com. Frankly, I got really tired of this run-around and decided to just ask them to take the photograph down and tender some form of unofficial apology. While the photograph has now been taken down, I have yet to receive any form of communication from TOI. I must say, this is quite shameful. It’s just such a ridiculous attitude of “Accha is bar pakde gaye, is liye utaar date hain” (Alright we got caught this time so we’ll take it down). No one has taken any responsibility or even attempted to show some good faith. I mean at least try and act as if this wasn’t business as usual.
The most disappointing thing about this experience is not that they took so long to get back to me (during which time the picture was still very much on display on their website), but rather, according to some members of the Press I am acquainted with, this is not uncommon practice. Apparently papers often take photographs they find online and simply crop the picture so as to filter out content, making it harder to identify as any one person’s shot. It may have even worked if it weren’t for the fact that I have a fairly good eye for my own work and the shot in question has a very mixed composition of lighting, making it rather easy to recognize. I have inserted the original shot, as well as a screenshot of the article below (as it was originally presented) for your perusal.
The truth is, in the digital age, copyright infringement has become extremely easy. The only reason I even stumbled upon this instance was because TOI is a well-known paper with an online presence and I happened to be looking to see if anyone had in fact used my photographs in fashion. But one can hardly expect an author to constantly look out everywhere for the infringement of his rights. I suppose that’s where collective societies can be helpful. As for me, I’m not looking to profit from my photographs. This is something I do as a hobby, because I like it. Which is why I make it clear that people can use my photographs, as long they ask for prior authorization and give due credit to the source. This is hardly that much to ask and would have in fact taken TOI almost no time. So it is disappointing that a reputable paper would act in this fashion. More curious still is the fact that while the representative on the phone immediately agreed to delete the photograph, he has taken days to get back to me about the question of recognition of authorship?
An acquaintance, who is a member of the Press, warned me that writing this post may in fact lead to TOI taking action against me – bringing an action of defamation perhaps. Should this be the case I am confident I am in the right, and I welcome them to try. While I do not accuse TOI of willfully disregarding copyright or authors’ moral rights, I do put it to them to explain this act, if they feel it is a lone one, and I encourage them to take more care in the future.
** For the follow-up to these events read: Mumbai Mirror Steps Up With An Apology