Earlier this month, Yahoo! started up a Malayalam version of its famous site and search engine. However, almost as soon as it went up, accusations of plagiarism began to surround the site, centering mostly around recipes other cooking instructions.
Yahoo! answered back to those allegations saying that the content came from a company contracted to provide content for the portal, Webdunia. Others, however, are reporting that they have been bounced back and forth between Yahoo! India, the subsidiary responsible for the portal, and Yahoo! Inc. itself, neither willing to take responsibility or answer for the complaints.
Still, the official word from Yahoo! at this time is that they are denying any theft, that the works in question have been removed and that all further complaints of alleged infringement should be taken up with Webdunia, not Yahoo!.
This has disturbed many bloggers, especially in the Indian blogging circles, and some are taking action, calling for a protest on March 5th against Yahoo!
The protest, according to the original call, will take the form of a large number of blog postings calling attention to Yahoo!’s alleged content theft.
According to the post, bloggers interested in participating in the protest should first spread the word about it and then, on March 5th, create a post detailing the recent events. The blogger spearheading the protest has also offered to let others use text from her previous posts on the subject to aid others in covering the issue.
The hope is that, by drawing as much attention to the problem as possible, Yahoo! will be forced to address what happened and take appropriate countermeasures. As it sits right now, Yahoo! has denied all wrongdoing and, instead, has worked to distance itself from the alleged copying.
How Not To Handle Plagiarism
The protestors, as well as other bloggers, are upset at Yahoo!’s handling of the situation. Specifically, they are upset about three different items.
- No Apology: Yahoo! has not apologized to any of the sites that had its work copied and, instead, has quietly removed the work when the misuse was pointed out.
- Lack of Responsibility: Yahoo! Inc. pointed the finger to Yahoo! India, Yahoo! India pointed it back to Yahoo! Inc and both have placed the blame on Webdunia. However, no action has been taken against Webdunia at this time.
- No Compensation: As of this writing, none of the bloggers that had their content lifted have been compensated for the alleged commercial use of their work.
However, as many have quickly pointed out (see comments), the recipes might not be copyrightable and, even if the copying were deliberate, it’s possible no violation of the law took place.
Still, Yahoo! has earned the ire of many bloggers, especially Indian and Malaysian food bloggers, and the protest on March 5th will be an expression of that.
Whether or not the protest will have any effect or do any good remains to be seen, but I fully expect to see a large volume of posts about the subject on that day.
Even if there was no copyright infringement in the legal sense of the word, there is definitely an ethical issue here. Major companies, such as Yahoo! are held to a higher standard when it comes to copyright issues and even if the reuse in question did not amount to a legal blunder, it definitely amounts to a moral one.
But what I, personally, find disturbing isn’t that a contractor hired by Yahoo! possibly lifted some content, but rather, that Yahoo! seems to be so quick to walk away from it, removing content stealthily and not addressing the issue publicly.
That has made the issue much worse for Yahoo!. If they had simply apologized for the slight and held the contractor involved responsible, either through termination or another reprimand, the incident would have likely long since blown over. Instead, now they are facing a blogger protest on the fifth of March and are the subject of countless posts on the subject, including this one.
Yet, what is perhaps worst of all is that this another blow to Indian bloggers in the area of plagiarism. Though Yahoo! India certainly does not represent Indian bloggers in any respect, it is yet another unfortunate case of plagiarism being attached to the country.
Worse still, the victims of the plagiarism were all legitimate Indian bloggers.
My hope is that Yahoo! will deal with this incident as any company should, directly and honestly. However, for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem prepared to do so and I fear that this protest will have little effect, other than stir up the ire of bloggers everywhere.
Sadly, Yahoo! may truly be untouchable on this issue. Though I certainly hope not.