Times of India steals Creative Commons works

On Feb 6th, I got up early for my workshop and sat to glance through the Times of India while having breakfast to catch up on the morning news. On the front page, I saw a headline Bhimgarh now wildlife sanctuary (if the link does not work, here is the article without the image) and when I looked down, I was shocked to see my bat photograph of the rare Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat. Now I had to work real hard to get permits to enter the cave and spend a lot of money to just access it and photograph it. Being a long time contributor of Wikipedia, I thought it would be a good to add this photo for the article as no other photo exists for this species.

Being a professional photographer, I earn by bread and butter via photography. Yet I feel the compulsion to share my photographs as half the reason I photograph in the first place is so that others can see what I had seen. Also since I have my roots in free software and creative commons, The CC license is one of the most attractive licenses. If you go to my website, you will realise that each and every photograph of mine is under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license (Freely copy, use and remix the photograph for non-commercial use). Unfortunately Wikipedia insists on a CC-By-SA license (Freely copy, use and remix the photograph for commercial use as well).

Well, the urge to upload to Wikipedia this picture so that the others can see this bat was a lot more than trying to keep this locked up in my hard disks. So I released one of the photographs under CC-By-SA. So its free for anyone to use, remix, etc (even for commercial use) as long as they give the attribution or credit.

Times of India has a nasty reputation when it comes to handling photographs. From what I hear, the journalists just google for the image that they need, click on image search and download the first image that they come across. They have used a lot of my photographs before from both my website and Wikipedia and have printed it in their news paper. I got angry, but let it pass as I was on the road and sometimes didn’t bother too much.

But the more they do it, the more annoying it gets. This time, I felt I had to do something about this. Not just for myself, but for other photographers in India who’s work in Wikipedia and flickr gets exploited by these publications. This will also discourage photographers from contributing to CC, which will in-turn kill creativity and also sharing of knowledge, rare photographs and pictures.

I wrote to the contact email address and did not get any response. I left a note on the online form and did not get any response. So I’m sending a legal notice to them via a legal adviser. I’m not asking for a compensation, but I want Times of India to publish a public apology for exploiting Creative Commons and Wikipedia and hopefully if we can make enough noise that other publications will take note too.

Update (12 Feb 2010) :

Times of India have apologised on their front page today. Good, but unfortunately not good enough. Obviously someone inside ToI have read this and have responded. It would be good if you can contact me regarding this. First, I wish it was an apology for lifting content from Creative Commons. Second, as a compensation, it would be good if you can run an article on Creative Commons in your paper. Not to highlight this issue, but a very general article so that people are aware of the strength of Creative Commons and how its helping people all around the world


  1. Suvajit · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Hi Kalyan,
    TOI has apoligised publicly on today’s(12th Feb) frontpage of this matter.
    But I am sure they will keep repeating this offence and will apologize later on request.
    How can this legal loophole be plugged ? Any ideas ?

  2. Sushma · February 12, 2010 Reply

    I just saw their apology on Pg 1! A page 1 apology is a lot in the world of Journalism… Good job!

  3. Bhooshan · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Kalyan, congrats! It was a swift and decisive move by you that has in turn got this result!

  4. Arjun Narayan · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Just saw the apology note by TOI in today’s edition. Good job Kalyan!

  5. Bhooshan · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Kalyan, btw, I have a question for you- may be a naive one: How do you know all those names man?
    I wouldnt know a “Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat”, even if it bit my ass! Well I know thats why you are the BBC nature guy…but still you know the species before you shoot or after? and if after how do you research them? 🙂

    • Kalyan Varma · February 12, 2010 Reply

      Heh. Most mammal and bird species are very well defined. In this case, I specifically went there, as these bats are known to roost in these caves. Bats on the whole are diff to identify. I can identify few of them, for the rest, i will need a high-res photo and the many guide books.

  6. Shveta Trivedi · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Dear Kalyan,
    We need more youth like you who are aware of what is ethical in their chosen profession and will take action to correct the wrong doings of even big institutions, whether it is media or corporates.
    If the educated youth in India live in awareness, our country has a great future. We do need to purge the unethical thinking process and passive acceptance of transgressions happening every day.
    Congratulations and all the best,

  7. Sunil · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Congrats Kalyan! Read the apology ToI published in today’s paper.
    They deserved this for their yellow journalism!

  8. Appu · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Your compensation demands are novel and innovation! Thumbs up for that!

  9. HPR · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Congrats !
    Saw the apology and the attribution for your photograph in todays TOI.
    Way to go..

    Could you share the contact for your legal adviser ?

  10. Ram · February 12, 2010 Reply


    Good to see them step forward with the apology note. Hope TOI realizes the value, effort and many more things that go behind a photographer’s effort and not repeat.

    Congrats, Kalyan! Way to go!


  11. mm · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Just read the front page…very swift action taken by them…nice to stand up and fight for our rights…Great…

  12. Mohanram Kemparaju · February 13, 2010 Reply

    Great job buddy…
    Saw the apology on the front page, and i had a wide grin across my face.
    I’m sure it was a swift professional action on your part, brought about the apology…

  13. Deepika · February 13, 2010 Reply

    And it’s a trend! Another example of blindly lifting stuff off the net, and in this case FOR the net:

    movie review by some guy: http://www.india.com/movies/movie-reviews/movie-review-my-name-khan_7153
    copied by mouthshut.com: http://www.mouthshut.com/review/My_Name_is_Khan-186247-1.html

  14. Deepa Mohan · February 14, 2010 Reply

    I am afraid that many newspapers like Times of India resort to not only the unethical practice of lifting content, but also apologizing as and when necessary…and calmly continuing the practice….and I am not able to find out what to do to stop this.

    I had written an article in Citizen Matters on some cyclists of Bangalore interviewing Dr. Venki, the Nobel Laureate who only has a cycle and no car….and I found that a similar article in The Hindu had lifted whole phrases from my article, without asking or acknowledging my article. I, too, was in the throes of leaving for the US and could not follow it up. 🙁

  15. mumbai paused · February 14, 2010 Reply

    And they complain that newspapers are struggling. If they worked honestly and a little harder, they will.

  16. Pankaj Sekhsaria · February 14, 2010 Reply

    Hi Kalyan.
    I agree with many of the comments – it’s unfortunate that the ToI and many other papers, who themselves claim to be upholders of public interest, indulge blatantly in what you have experienced. What’s great is that you took up the matter and managed to get some kind of a correction. A really good show!

  17. VMR · February 15, 2010 Reply

    A good cause pursued well with results,this should lead others to be more responsible in future.

  18. Niloufer · February 15, 2010 Reply

    Not new. They’ve done it to images from my site twice. The second time I pushed and pushed and finally got an apology in 4pt or something. Well, I don’t expect anything from Times of India.

  19. Chirag · February 15, 2010 Reply

    This is not surprising at all ,a lot of indian publications think its okay to just steal off the internet , dont just settle for an apology , dont even settle for ‘payment’ , settle for damages.

    Its not only that they think its okay to steal but its also disrespecting the profession that we are in.

  20. Mridula · February 15, 2010 Reply

    I hate that word inadvertently.

  21. vivek · February 16, 2010 Reply

    I just cancelled my subscription of ToI as plagiarism and copy right violations are not done .

  22. Bhooshan · February 16, 2010 Reply

    Deepa Mohan, Deepa, I am sad to see that you mention as if you can/will do nothing about it. Plagiarism is a very very serious ethical breach.It was an eye opener for me when I saw first hand how a famous best selling(check amazon for DSP) technical author- Rick Lyons – destroyed a fellow academic for plagiarism. It seemed a bit severe reaction at that time. I was even left wondering if he thinks a bit too much about his own self worth. May be there was an inflated ego at play and may be plagiarism is not taken that seriously in India and Asia in general. But in the end I understood that in western contexts its a breach of a very serious trust- like cheating in a marriage. The guy had sloppily lifted random diagrams and phrases from Rick’s book in an IEEE paper presentation and thought he can get away by mentioning Ricks book in “references”. Rick did not merely protest or raise an objection- Rick finished him off professionally just to send a strong message on how serious plagiarism is.

    Hope you dont let it rest.

  23. Ravi Maganti · February 17, 2010 Reply


    I hope your actions serve as an eye opener for many who may not be aware of copyright protection. Let us also not forget about the intent of your photograph and also that of the article.


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  25. Anand · February 24, 2010 Reply

    Hi Kalyan,
    This is not the first time TOI is doing this, they have published articles from stolen pieces as well. But I agress with you if they can publish something on CC. Which will bring awareness to the genaral public. Great job!

    Also, have you tried your hand on RTI regarding this. I am investigating to see more on that.

  26. manjeet & yograj Jadeja · April 1, 2010 Reply

    nice to know that they apologized but what about the compensation (whatever peanuts), it should be demanded from publishers who have repeated \lapses\.
    its incidences like these that makes one think twice about the cc license.
    is it worth the risk?
    cant you post a link on Wikipedia to the licensed image that you decide to share on your website for free.

  27. Nishant · June 7, 2010 Reply

    Media and the indian papers are not immune to corruption,fraud.Business is “chori”.The Times like most papers are owned by business families.The internet is full of information on swindling and cheating by online shopping sites,even indiatimes shopping affliated to the Times Group which publishes the TOI.

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  30. Melanie Smith · February 23, 2016 Reply

    I know this is an old post. I am wondering if you ever reached a resolution. TOI has stolen my work also, and I am not intending to drop it anytime soon. I am curious about others experiences.

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