Sunday, May 3, 2009

Plagiarism - does anyone even accept copying as stealing?

I am probably the only Indian woman of my generation who’s teen years were totally bypassed by Mills and Boons (MB to all but the uninitiated). But even while my geeky nose was buried in Issac Asimov, I could not but be aware of the MB Universe that everyone else was a part of.
It was therefore with a smile of recognition that I read Niranjana Iyer’s blog post on India’s romance with MB. But the smile was replaced with a frown when I read a subsequent post of hers on how India’s ‘No. One Magazine’ plagiarised her work.

Damayanti Dutta, the Deputy Editor of India Today, in her blog on India Today dot In seemed to have exactly the same experiences and reactions to Mills and Boons as did Niranjana. Which is not surprising considering Niranjana spoke about the reactions of an entire generation of teens, not just her own.

What is surprising is the fact that Damayanti Dutta’s ideas flowed in exactly the same order as did Niranjana’s.

For instance, when Niranjana wrote - “Back in eighties/early nineties India, every girl I knew read (or had read) Mills and Boon romances. They were especially sought-after during boring college lectures–the books were small enough and bendy enough to slip comfortably into Samuelson’s Macroeconomics text, or P.L.Soni’s magnum opus on Inorganic Chemistry.” – she was talking about a universal experience.

But was it so universal that Damayanti Dutta could not be exactly parallel Niranjana’s paragraph construction when she wrote – “All the girls I knew back in the ’80s and ’90s—in school, in the neighbourhood—read (or flipped through relevant pages of) those Mills and Boon romances. We would narrate stories to each other, lend and share books, and fall asleep clutching an M&B. Not just that, those handy volumes were our best friend at all those sleep-inducing, yawn-invoking classes, slipping neatly inside a Resnick & Halliday physics tome or an A.L. Basham’s Wonder That Was India and enveloping us in a warm glow.”?

Niranjana thought that of the 3 billion copies shipped worldwide, at least one billion found their way to India. Damayanti Dutta has come up with very similar figures – she thinks that of the 300 crore books shipped out, one third made their way to India. Neither of them come up with any rationale to back up the number – what is the probability that two people come up with exactly the same number without following any particular paths of logical deduction?

There is no doubt that Damayanti Dutta was not just inspired by Niranjana’s piece, she cleverly reworded the entire piece and tried to pass it off as her own.

The question is what next? The least Niranjana can expect is a public apology, an acknowledgement of her piece, and a monetary compensation in lieu with whatever the India Today Group/ Damayanti Dutta has made out of plagiarising Niranjana’s work. But being an Indian, Damayanti Dutta is probably used to 'mugging' answers from guide books and passing it off as her own - she probably doesn't even realise that copying someone else's ideas is also stealing, even if she presents them in 'her own words'.

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