Since yesterday, much spleen has been vented regarding the lifting of creative commons and copyrighted content from the Internet by Indian media publications. This is by no means a new phenomenon, but now a twitter account – Chori_in (chori means theft in Hindi) and a google group (Say No To Plagiarism) has been created to track instances of copyright violation.

At the same time, Sachin Kalbag, Senior Editor, Mail Today tweeted that the publication has “banned the use of googled images” as a policy unless they are free-to-use stock images, and in one instance, reprimanded a copy editor and compensated the photographer in question, thus throwing down the gauntlet for other publications. Mail Today is daily newspaper from the India Today Group, backed by Associated Newspapers, the publishers of the Daily Mail.

MediaNama spoke with Mail Today Editor Bharat Bhushan on the publications policy regarding copyright content, crediting and online photographs.

Could you elaborate on the policy that you’ve instituted regarding online photographs?

We believe in respecting copyright. If the picture is copyrighted we get permission from the photographer, pay for it and then use it. We don’t believe in stealing pictures and it’s not a fair practice. We discourage people to just lift stuff off the net, unless it explicitly says that it’s a promotional picture, for example, films have promotional pictures. Otherwise we like to pay for pictures and get permission, and have a straight deal, which is fair to photographers, and is good journalistic practice.

There have been issues in the past. How do you intend to track and deal with them?

We’ve dealt with them in the past. There was the case of a person who complained that his picture was lifted by one of our supplements. We told him that it was done inadvertently, and we would like to pay for it. He said that normally I would charge “this much” but I’m going to charge you more. We paid him that amount. My instructions said “don’t lift pictures unless you’re absolutely sure that they’re not copyright protected, in which case we go to the source and buy the picture”. If we want a particular pose of a particular politician or scene, we would go to Getty or Barcroft, and negotiate with them. It’s pointless stealing other peoples pictures because we’re also in the business of selling pictures. We don’t want people to steal our pictures.

When was this policy instituted?

Right in the beginning, but you know journalists are overenthusiastic. To my mind we’ve had only one instance of where this was done. We’ve had one instance of where somebody was wrongly identified in the picture. If we can’t afford to pay, then we don’t use that picture. If you’re not paying for something, it’s not our property. That’s where the matter ends.

What we’ve done recently is that we found that journalists have a tendency to pick up agency copy and make it their own. For lazy journalists it might be a good idea to do that, but what we tell them is how do you take responsibility for agency quotes? What if it was exclusive? If we are doing our own copy and we want to use a quote from the agency, the policy is that we have to say “Minister X said this to PTI, AFP or Reuters”. Everywhere you’ll find that we give credit to agency copy. But the policy on pictures has been there since we began. How can any editor in his right mind allow that? I’m in the process of sacking somebody for lifting an agency copy and presenting it as his own. It was detected before publication and we junked it.

We’re very serious about protecting copyright: if you respect other peoples copyright they’ll respect your copyright. It’s not an expensive proposition, it’s a fair proposition. You don’t save much by stealing, you just do yourself some damage, and you do damage to people who have originally taken the picture.

Have you considered syndicating content from bloggers and websites?

No, we don’t syndicate content from websites, but if someone wants to write exclusively for us, we are willing to deal with them.

Corrigendum: Had incorrectly mentioned Sachin Kalbag’s designation as Digital Editor instead of Senior Editor. Apologies for the error.