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. Prashanth · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Go for it man…and go the full mile. This should be an example for journalistic professionalism. It speaks of a very poor culture that a leading daily handles their photographs in such an irresponsible manner.

    Really appreciate your putting up of photographs on Wikipedia. Like you say, such incidents should not discourage free sharing of photographs.

  2. uberVU - social comments · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by kalyanvarma: Here’s the full details on what Times of India stole http://bit.ly/byPOi7

  3. Lalith Suresh · February 11, 2010 Reply

    It’s great that you’re standing your ground. May you set an example for everyone! Best of luck!

  4. Mridula · February 11, 2010 Reply

    I feel for you. Even though I am not a professional photographer I have faced the same twice in the recent past with HT media once Brunch in print (a cup of coffee of all things and my (c) Mridula D cropped out) and then just a week or so before Mint using my image of a passport with Brunch. I just to make a point asked for a compensation.

    Sending a legal notice is a good idea. If you want a response write to someone in the editorial team, they are much too thick skinned to response to generic emails. I am also told that writing to the circulation heads and marketing heads helps as they are the ones with clout.

    Don’t let this pass.

  5. Leena · February 11, 2010 Reply

    did TOI not provide attribution? the article wouldn’t load…

  6. narendra · February 11, 2010 Reply

    You must claim for huge compensation, as they have infringed a copyright act in India. See, if you have infringed their copyright then you can imagine about your life and legal war. After getting huge money from TOI, you can donate that money to wikipedia itself (after taking some money for yourself which you are applying in legal war against TOI). man go it !! everybody will forget apology after 2 day of publication.

  7. Varrun · February 11, 2010 Reply


    Times of India are definitely wrong about doing such a thing. I think creativity is unique to every person, and must be granted due credit. I think you should pursue this, and ensure you get the apology back from Times of India. You have our full support.


  8. Pavithran · February 11, 2010 Reply

    TOI and HT, and who knows, probably most of Indian print media think they are above law and can steal any picture and exploit it for their commercial purposes. Such high-handedness and contempt for law are serious offences and condemnable. These thick-headed basturds deserve to be taught a lesson. Good luck to you.

  9. Arun · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Image plagiarism is so common. Please keep us updated on the progress. Thanks for doing this, which helps all of us out there whose images often get used by publications without permission.

  10. shivani · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Oh this is really sad.. I read that article but never realized that it was one of ur pic.
    Appreciate your stand ..good luck

  11. Abhijit Bera · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Most Indian media companies don’t care. They are experts at stealing and want to kill all creativity. The decline is very evident if u read a newspaper of the 1990s and now or see a T.V. show of the that time and now. Indian media companies have become nothing but advertising portals. They only care about their bottom line. I hope you get justice and TOI(let) gets to pay a huge fine. The courts need to set an example to deter any corporate from misusing images.

  12. neo · February 11, 2010 Reply

    You must demand compensation. Promise your lawyer 30% of any compensation that you get. Remember that an apology is for free, and it will be printed in Chinese on page 29 of their Hindi edition.

  13. Prakash G.R. · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Demand the apology to be published on the front page, where the original article was published. Else it will be put up in a corner where no one can see

  14. bhanu · February 11, 2010 Reply

    terrible work by TOI. most photographers in popular newspapers don’t care whose images they use. its an easy access now with internet. this should be condemned. hope they respond to your legal notice. wish RTI was applicable to private institutions as well.

  15. Srik · February 11, 2010 Reply

    If you still require legal help, try speaking to Sudheer KS on INW who is a lawyer specializing in cyber laws. You may already know him – but I mentioned this just in case you didnt.


  16. Omshivaprakash · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Through my facebook status replies:

    @Subhash Rai commented on your status:

    “:) One can get worked up about it because it is ToI. But there were days when this was the norm in many many newsroom. I don’t think you can blame “evil ToI” for it, except to poke fun at internal processes that lead to such goof ups. Nor I hope the journalist responsible for this was crucified. It is unfair on the offended pro photographer. This is yet another instance of the clash of the analog and digital order, I suppose.”

  17. Prashant Kulli · February 11, 2010 Reply


    This time just stick to your decision and sue them!! Enough is enough; They should apologize to you!


  18. Radha · February 11, 2010 Reply

    What TOI has done is atrocious and totally unprofessional. Image plagiarism is the last thing a leading national daily should stoop down to. We stand by you Kalyan.
    Here’s another instance of a signature being cropped out of the image when it was stolen – http://www.flickr.com/photos/shivanayak/4271643106/

  19. Anaggh Desai · February 11, 2010 Reply

    A sad thing to do, however, as you said nothing new, for Times & others also. Yes, anger needs an outlet & probably some kind of answer may be forthcoming from ToI but do not hold your breath. And this easy, google it, copy it will continue, senior photographers may move away, newbies would take their place, who would have no problems in giving up their work. ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’ But let this not bog you down. Keep it flowing, Life is for living!

  20. Aparajita Datta · February 11, 2010 Reply

    I know a couple of decent journalists that work in TOI whom you can contact to get a proper response. Go for it:)

  21. Mridula · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Kalyan all my details are published. I have been 4 times in print, thrice because my image was plagiarized! Here are the URLs-





    Sorry for giving you so many links but that is how it has been at my end.

    Where I struggle is that what should be the adequate compensation in such cases (because many established photographers say if we do not demand payment there is very little deterrent) because I am a poor negotiator.

    And two, if the plagiarism is web based they immediately take the picture down when you highlight the fact (so it is important to take screen shots before writing to anyone in the organization for web based plagiarism) which feels like double insult to amateurs like me. I mean the picture was good enough till they didn’t know it was mine and not good once they knew it belong to an amateur blogger or whatever is their logic. We need to get a code for both, what is the correct payment for plagiarism and if on web what should be done with that picture.

    Sorry for high-jacking your comment space but this is a really sore issue with me.

  22. Anilkumar GT · February 11, 2010 Reply

    I agree with many of the comments here Kalyan…if you are not asking for compensation, then their apology should be at the same space where the article was published and should occupy the same area…nothing less.

  23. Niranjana Nammalvar · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Could feel your pain. TOI should be sued for this act.

  24. Sumit · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Go for it! More strength.

  25. Pramod Viswanath · February 11, 2010 Reply

    TOI is infamous for this. It’s such a shame that it is one of the leading news papers in the country! Don’t leave them!

  26. Nisha · February 11, 2010 Reply

    It has become a regular affair of these newspapers and magazines. Mridula has faced it twice already. Had it been in US, they could not even think of doing that.
    Now, I think I should also keep my eyes open and look for my photos in such places.

    I fully agree with Anilkumar GT about their apology.

  27. Shalini · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Go for it man – more power to you on this. Ever since I have joined photography forums,this issue has cropped up time and again and TOI seems to be the worst offender. Its really sad that this sort of thing is being done – it will put an end to creativity and sharing on the net.

    I am a firm believr in fighting for one’s right and you should definately not let this pass. I think I am also going to write in a letter to the editor condemning this- to support your cause.

    All the best.



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  29. Bobin James · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Mumbai Mirror stole my picture from my Flickr page. It was published in Mumbai Mirror and now is on the TOI website. Check out the gall of the woman who is “informing” me that my picture “might be used”.

    My original pic: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobinjames/2507638479/

    Mirror staffer’s comment on my picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobinjames/3588966008/#comment72157619599357010

    Picture on the TOI website: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/bollywood/news-interviews/Monica-to-make-her-bollywood-debut/articleshow/4648429.cms

  30. Ritesh · February 11, 2010 Reply

    That’s just plain wrong!! Let them apologize for this gross violation of commons pool ethics. I wonder if the people of TOI even know what CC stands for. And to think they are one of the biggest media companies in India.

  31. Ray · February 11, 2010 Reply

    You have people like me, behind you, for sure. Copyright = wrong. CC-NC-SA (or CC-BY-SA, even) = right. You have every right to demand to be credited for your work and an apology from them. Anything you can do, to stop this practice, will strengthen the CC license – which can only be good for everyone (who doesn’t cheat).

  32. Nikanth Karthikesan · February 11, 2010 Reply

    off-topic doubt:
    Say I keep a hoarding in M.G.Road with your CC-By-SA picture with due attribution. But some one publishes a picture of the M.G Road in which your picture is clearly visible but not the attribution, will it be a violation of the license?

    Anyway all the best in your fight against piracy.

  33. Melvin Pereira · February 11, 2010 Reply

    I think we also need to spread the news on twitter and Facebook so that ToI learns this.

    I am with you .. Will do what I can to help. But dont back down …

    This hopefully will be a reminder to one of the Biggest Newspaper chains in India, that they cannot do what they want, and not give credit.

    And also I agree that the apology should take up the same space as the article.

  34. raghavendrasatish · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Go a head legally and do some thing which remains in the history of journalism. Teach them a lesson and no other publication must dare to do this kind of works.

  35. Mail Today Editor Bharat Bhushan On Copyright, Crediting & Online Photographs - MediaNama · February 11, 2010 Reply

    […] 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 […]

  36. Mridula · February 11, 2010 Reply

    I compiled a short list of cases (more than 20) that are known to me of the Indian Media Plagiarism.


  37. rocksea · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Kalyan, sad at the event, but happy that you have taken up the issue. This has happened/is happening to a lot of us, and is severe these days!

  38. Aditya · February 11, 2010 Reply

    I think that you should file for compensation for copyright infringement. Knowing the Times people, if it doesn’t cost them, it doesn’t pinch them.

  39. Prad · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Sad to hear… We are all with you..Sue them royally

  40. Prad · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Sad to hear… We are all with you..Sue TOI

  41. Subharghya Das · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Not only TOI I feel most of Press and Many Publishing Houses of India have this great habit of using other photographer’s hard work without giving any credit to him/her 🙁 .. They feel we Indians don’t have patience or energy to invest time and money to sue them for this so they don’t bother to think twice 🙁 .. I too support you on this !! Go and get Them !!!

  42. Satya Prakash · February 11, 2010 Reply

    They should also pay to you for all the photographs they have published. They make lots of money through news article etc.

  43. coldclimate · February 11, 2010 Reply

    It happens a lot here in the UK too – several of my photos have appeared online and in print without attribution. I know somebody who’s personal photos of a family pet appeared in a book too!

  44. Anusha · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Wishing you all the luck you need for this ….keep us updated on the progress.

  45. Ashwini Bharadwaj · February 11, 2010 Reply

    It’s really sad that such a thing is happening even after all the awareness on free and open software and creative commons licenses we have these days. And can’t believe that it’s the media that is doing this! I am glad you decided not to let go of it. Someone like you should be able to fight them easily and make them apologize and hopefully that helps others too.

  46. Rk · February 11, 2010 Reply

    Hope something comes out of this. You are taking on a media house, which has had nasty reputation to shutdown freelance independent bloggers. Good luck Kalyan.

  47. Myv · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Love your work. Sad about TOI stealing you work but I am glad you are taking it up with them. Good luck.

  48. Yogendra K · February 12, 2010 Reply

    Shame shame. Nail ’em. TOI’s coffers are overflowing with green paper. No sin if you ask them for compensation, they are into media for business..

    Being a journalist, I am quite upset. Not all publications resort to plagiarism. There are some responsible institutions too. Good luck on your endeavour.

  49. Gubbi · February 12, 2010 Reply

    How about a meme? Where all photographers get to become creative with their messages like “All rights reserved. Times of India, don’t steal my photographs.”. “CC-By-SA. Hands off my photographs TOI” etc.,

    These messages be put on the photograph corners, until TOI apologizes publicly (or perpetually.) Or on a special day to name and shame them all yearly.

    or something along these lines.

    1. Will be viewed by several people.

    2. Will have an element of interest as people get to create very creative messages. like youtube comments 😛

    3. Will live on perpetually on some photographs, so acts as a heavy cost for the stealer. The more such message carrying photographs, the more the embarrassment accumulation on the internet.

    4. Doesn’t need a whole lot of people to pull this off… People whose photographs gets stolen and have high visibility can trigger this off.

    • Kalyan Varma · February 12, 2010 Reply

      Lovely idea. Lets wait to hear back from them regarding the notice. If they act funny, lets all make a funny TOI copyright logo and paste it all around the web. This will really work I think.

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