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This blogger is leading the fight against plagiarism in food writing and photography

Rhea- Mitra Dalal, founder of the Facebook group -Food Bloggers’ Hall of Shame is fighting authors who shamelessly ‘copy paste’ other people’s work.

more lifestyle Updated: Jul 27, 2017 16:58 IST
Abhinav Verma
Abhinav Verma
Hindustan Times
Rhea- Mitra Dalal,Food Bloggers’ Hall of Shame,Plagiarism in Food Writing and Photography
Rhea- Mitra Dalal is the founder of the Facebook group -Food Bloggers’ Hall of Shame, that highlights the rampant problem of plagiarism in food writing and photography in the country.

Thanks to Google, plagiarising has now become ‘a’ child’s play. With a large number of sources available online, everyone has the liberty to lift content for their article, book or research paper. The recent case of chef Sunil Soni, author of Jashn-E-Oudh: Romance of the Cuisine, is a clear indication of how deeply ingrained copy- pasting is in our world today. Raj Kumar Saxena, who is the former principal of Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) Lucknow and Mumbai, accused Soni of plagiarism . Soni’s book came out in 2015 whereas Saxena’s two books on Awadhi cuisine came out in 2006 and 2015. However, it’s only now that Saxena realised that Soni had copied 42 recipes, 4 explanatory notes of recipes and 12 chapters’ notes from his own book. Thanks to social media, Saxena’s plight came to light. A legal case was filed and the fight for justice is going on.

In the fight against plagiarism, social media has now emerged as a platform to fight those who shamelessly practise plagiarism. And one such person, who is leading the fight is the 45- year-old Rhea Mitra-Dalal. Mumbai based- Rhea is a blogger, food writer and caterer, who started a Facebook page- Food Bloggers’ Hall of Shame. The purpose of the group is to fight plagiarism in food writing and photography in India. In a conversation with HT, Rhea reveals why she started the group and how one can protect their work against plagiarism.

How the blog came to be

I started the group Food Bloggers’ Hall of Shame, a few years ago out of sheer frustration and because of rising incidents of plagiarism from blogs. There was a need for a space where one could discuss these incidents and deal with them. Most bloggers, myself included, had no idea how to tackle plagiarism or how to protect oneself from it. The group was a space to educate ourselves and to come together to fight plagiarism, instead of just venting our anger and frustrations without actually doing anything constructive.

The rampant problem of plagiarism and how to spread awareness against it

Plagiarism is rampant indeed and it’s not limited to written content. One sees innumerable instances of stolen photographs, too. And it’s not limited to food blogs and food-related content only, it’s a problem in many industries, though my knowledge of it is limited to the food industry. There are lazy bloggers who want quick growth (large follower numbers) and don’t want to put in the effort of creating original content themselves – it takes effort, expense, and time.

Similarly there are lazy PR people who find it easier to simply use images and content that they find online rather than put in the effort of creating original content. The basic attitude is, “I can do this and get away with it because the chances of getting caught are quite low”. Then there are aggregator sites that collate content and serve it up without permissions or credit to the creator. You will see hundreds of these with generic names like Best Recipes, Easy Indian Food, Top Desi Recipes, etc., that simply copy and paste recipes from blogs. Sometimes they might mention the source, but rarely do they link back to the blog (thus generating traffic to the blog) and it’s even rarer that they have actually taken permission to use that content.

Spreading awareness is harder than you would believe. Most consumers of content don’t really care where the content came from as long as they have access to it. That’s another thing plagiarists bank on – that they will get likes and views , even though it is a known fact that their content is stolen. It is only the creators of the content who are losing out and are constantly battling plagiarism.

Another problem is brands that engage with bloggers don’t care if the blogger is a plagiarist, as long as the blogger has good numbers and a large enough audience. Is it any wonder that there is such a scramble to get ahead and grab plump contracts by any means possible?

How to protect one’s work from getting plagiarised

Frankly, you can’t really protect yourself. The Internet is huge and it’s very easy to crop out watermarks and ignore copyright warnings. Once you publish your content, it is out there accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. And of course plagiarism isn’t restricted to the online space, books and publications aren’t spared either.

But just because it’s difficult and frustrating doesn’t mean we do nothing about it. We have won many small battles by simply posting and reposting on social media – especially against celebrity chef fan pages and brand pages on Facebook. Though we have rarely got an apology from the offending page (these lapses are always blamed on the PR exec!) at least the stolen content has been taken down.

The legal loopholes that make ‘copy- pasting’ easy

From the legal point of view, the content creator is always at a disadvantage. Not only are there so many loopholes that plagiarists take advantage of, but legal expenses and long drawn out cases also discourage bloggers from going the legal route. The only way to help bloggers and content creators is to revise the laws, make them tighter, so victims of plagiarism at least feel that the legal route will be worth the expense and time. As things stand today, we are on our own fighting plagiarism in a limitedly successful way using social media to expose thieves.

Recent cases of plagiarism

A few bloggers took The Frying Pan app (an aggregator app) to court for using their content without permission. We, as the blogger community, also came together and created a lot of awareness about this case across Facebook and Twitter. The matter was ultimately settled out of court and The Frying Pan has also changed its way of functioning to a more transparent format.

Hebbar’s Kitchen is a popular recipe video channel and there are innumerable bloggers who have found their content on this channel without requisite permissions. The channel however thrives because, as I said earlier, the consuming public doesn’t care where the content comes from as long as they have easy access to it.

More recently, there was the case of the book Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh by Sangeeta Bhatnagar and R K Saxena being plagiarised by Sunil Soni in his book Jashn-e-Oudh. The case is in court as far as I know.

First Published: Jul 27, 2017 16:12 IST