Plagiarism In The Pakistani Blogosphere

October 11, 2007
Zainub Razvi

What is common between the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the famous American deaf and blind author cum activist Helen Keller and lead guitarist of The Beatles, George Harrison? They've all been accused of (and in at least two of these cases) successfully proven to have been guilty of plagiarism (see Wikipedia article on Plagiarism for more).

Incidentally it so happens that I've written a fair amount about this evil and in particular how the medium of the Internet has opened a plethora of opportunities for those who willing to cut short on a little extra hard work and suffice with mass copy-pasting. In the July issue of Spider I was asked to write a feature story on the theme, and a month earlier, in June, via The Karachi Metroblog I had discovered how one popular Pakistani ezine We Cite had been mass copying its content from all sorts of sources on the world wide web, right from ordinary blogs to the Washington Post's Slate magazine.

Since then, I've discovered several more instances of plagiarism in the Pakistani online presence (and other less serious though in no way insignificant cases of copyright infringement), many of which I had all but forgotten because I didn't want to carve out a reputation of my self as some one who enjoys driving publicity out of ruining other people's reputations. And frankly, there were so many of them, I just resigned to the fact that this isn't something you can curb merely by pointing it out in blogs. But then something I saw this morning brought back all those nasty memories I had buried all over again, and this time, since the plagiarized content in question had appeared in a mainstream popular Pakistani blog I knew bringing this out was necessary, and that if I didn't I would in effect be endorsing it. So here's what happened.

In its editorial two days ago, Dawn had touched upon the subject of public toilets and their dearth in Pakistan, I had read this two days ago and obviously retained part of it in my mind as you would when reading anything. This morning when I logged into my Google feed reader, I saw a post with a similar title. Assuming that it will discuss the said editorial, I went on to read. I kept reading till I reached the end of the short, concise post by Mehar Nawaz Khan at The Pakistani Spectator. Something wasn't going down too well even though I seemed to agree with everything Mehar had said.

Then it finally dawned on me. Why did the whole post sound so familiar to the editorial I had read two days earlier in Dawn? To check, I went up to the Dawn website, looked up their achieves and surely enough, there it was: the post at TPS and the editorial in Dawn; identical, verbatim copies of each other. A few months ago I may have been quite taken aback by such blatant plagiarism, but not now. If there's a ring of suspicion that rises about any thing, I almost half expect it to be completely indiscriminate with no attempt made even to blur the line between copied and original.

But the disappointment this time is much greater. I had caught plagiarism in a post from my RSS reader. This means that this was a blog I frequented and it had my respect for the perspectives it brought with it. There's been a lot of headway made by the Pakistani blogosphere in recent times and The Pakistani Spectator has been a vigilant avenue chronicling much of this progress. In an ongoing series, another of the TPS's bloggers Gazalah Khan has been interviewing prominent names from the Pakistani blogosphere (including yours truly). It is in ingenious idea that has resulted in some really fascinating insight into people like Raza Rumi, Omar Alvi, Awab Alvi, Owais Mughal, S A J Shirazi and others. TPS's coverage of ongoing political events in Pakistan has been equally impressive, coming across as refreshingly honest and forthright. That's why this discovery is as disappointing as it is.

The Pakistani Spectator is good blog, and good blogs don't have contributors copy-pasting editorials from national dailies (not the least without mentioning that they're quoting them!). There's a possibility this might have happened inadvertently, Mehar may have meant to quote the editorial in full, but forgotten to attribute properly, in which case, this is a grave error and needs to be acknowledged immediately. However if this was intentional, which it appears to be given how the author has made no attempt to correct the misconceptions arising in the comments that are showering praise at Maher for a writing a "touching" post, then that goes to say a lot about the mindset we have towards plagiarism as a society.

Students already tend to view copyright as "my right to copy", the main stream media are lax in their surveillance of intellectual theft, the powers to be at the highest levels (whoever they are) are derelict in applying whatever limited laws there are against such crimes, and all the rest of society is just too indifferent enough to bother. No wonder plagiarism is as rampant as it is, and it is carried out with as much effrontery as it is! Forget bloggers who plagiarise online, or even about students copy pasting assignments from Wikepedia to hand in last minute homework (and how teachers will, more often then not, do very little apart from verbally reprimand their students for this), in a recent job interview that I gave, my interviewer narrated how one of the applicants had copied large chunks of a written assignment given to shortlisted candidates off an advertising blog, and not only that later justifyed his actions by saying he was merely "quoting".

You'd think that you'd want to start your career on an honest note at least, but seems like honesty is no longer the moral yardstick of society. Of course I'd still hate to generalize all this with respect to Mehar Nawaz Khan and her questionable post at The Pakistani Spectator, it may be possible that it was done inadvertently, but surely enough, if that was the case, the mistakes should have been realised by now, especially when commentators in the post have started paying compliments to the author for a well compiled entry! That this post has sat there for two days and the author has basked in the glory of some one else's writing, and that too not any random some one but the editor of the largest read English daily in Pakistan, is nothing short of disgraceful. I'd still hate to think that TPS's reputation on a whole as one of the better blogs in the Pakistani blogosphere should suffer from this. But a speedy acknowledgment with due clarification and an apology wouldn't do any harm, and could possibly save them from more serious consequences (such as a law suit filed by Dawn).

And more importantly I hope that the Pakistani and indeed global blogosphere learns from this. Its easy to copy and paste on the web, so easy that even a website like Yahoo! has been found to indulge in it but there's no hiding when you're caught. And its not worth whatever little popularity it gains you in the meanwhile. Its no small business, its like stealing! So lets be honest, and promote intellectual honestly in others as well.

Zainub is an opinionated dreamer, intermittent blogger, massive sports fan and aspiring journalist recently liberated from studying boring dentistry. She blogs at Kaleidoscope, freelances for Spider and Sci-Tech World both part of the Dawn media group, and also writes at ezines Desicritics and Chowk. She is currently majoring in General History and minoring in International Relations and Mass Media Communications/Journalism at the University of Karachi.
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The Pakistani Spectator
October 11, 2007
01:06 PM

First Thanks for pointing this grave grave error out, and we are so much sorry for this, not only from DAWN, and but from all the blogistan as it happens.

We cannot claim innocence and we cannot claim ignorance. Because we know that it was our responsibility to look into such things, but we really didnt know that it was a stolen article.

We have terminated the author "Mehar Nawaz Khan from TPS, and he wont be writing on TPS anymore. He also says that he is sorry, but he only will be back, if the readers of TPS forgive him through their comments publicly.

We have removed his pirated post, and again we are very sorry for all this.

The Pakistani Spectator

October 11, 2007
02:43 PM

That's cool, it happens, and it's an ethical breach of the author, more than anyone else's

October 11, 2007
03:00 PM

It takes some one brave to acknowledge a mistake, and TPS have done the right right in acknowledging their mistake. All the best to them for the future, and I hope this serves as a reminder of the responsibility we have own our selves as bloggers.

October 11, 2007
03:01 PM

*own=on (typo)

Deepa Krishnan
October 11, 2007
10:47 PM

I'm delighted at the response from The Pakistani Spectator.

Mehar Nawaz
October 12, 2007
12:24 AM

First of all i realy apologize to all my respectable elders/friends/brothers and sisters with depth of my heart.
Intentionally i wrote this write-up form dawn for only share with all of u, but unfortunately could't menioned the referance which is a blender.
But my dears, mistakes are the part of work. Please cooldown and pray for my success in future.
i'll try my level best to avoid such type of stupind mistakes in future.
Warm Regards.

October 12, 2007
12:49 AM

That's not a mistake - that's plagiarism


Deepti Lamba
October 12, 2007
01:10 AM

But my dears, mistakes are the part of work.

Mr Nawaz, its a very serious breach of trust between a writer and the publisher when plagarism is done. There doesn't seem to be an ounce of repentance in your apology.

This isn't some kind of typing error that the site or its readers can overlook. Your actions caused the site's credibility to be questioned. And for you to shrug it off as a 'stupid mistake' shows that you have failed to understand the gravity of the situation.

October 12, 2007
01:54 AM

I was happy with the apology that came from the TPS, Gazalah emailed me personally as well, and they accepted responsibility at all levels doing almost everything you could ask them for, including removing the plagiarised post, banning the author from their contributors' list and publicly apologising to all their readers for not being able to prevent this. It was refreshing to see their accountability and I still do remain really appreciative of how swiftly they acted.

But the response from Mr. Maher here is more then just a bit odd. You say that you 'couldn't' mention the refrence, if you had said you had 'forgotten' to mention the refrence, then it would have been partially understandable (whilst still not being enxucseable) but 'couldn't' just typies the sort of attitude I've discussed in the thread.

Were you thinking that it was okay to exclude the refrence and implie that the plagiarised work was your own? Even if you had 'forgetten' (and that's a hard argument to buy into, in fact its not even an argument, its just a lame excuse) a reminder ought to have come your way when other comentators starting praising your post in the comments! Why didn't you bother correcting the 'mistake' then? What stopped from your telling your readers later on that the post wasn't your own making? I smell fish here, Mr. Maher, nothing but fish.

You either plagiarise or you don't. There's no middle ground. You can either want to quote, or want to plagiarise. If you want to 'share' something, then you really can't forget to mention the source of the information (lets be realistic, how can one 'forget' something like this when its the only thing you have to do apart from copy pasting, its not a very credible excuse by any stretch of imagination). The only case where something as conspicious as mentioning the refrence can be overlooked or forgotten is where there is a deliberate underlying intention to give the impression that you self-produced that information. And any such intentions tantamount to a crime (not mistake as Deepti and Aaman also point out).

I've still got respect for TPS, they've got other decent people there who I'm sure will be very hurt and betrayed by such comments. They'll be better off without such authors who pass on plaigiarism (which is rarely, especially in the blogosphere at least, unintentional) as merely 'mistakes'.

Mr. Maher, please take a moment to go read the Wikipedia article on Plagiarim. People have lost their jobs, their entire careers ruined and their reputations damaged forever at what you're terming merely 'mistakes'. Perhaps then you'll realise the severity of the consequences of what you've done, and how in fact, you are lucky not to have seen the worse.

October 12, 2007
02:06 AM

And remember that your name and actions are inscribed forever on the Internet and Google's memory

October 12, 2007
05:06 AM

plagiarists are lazy, good for nothing, delusional beings in dire need of psychiatric help!

all they badly need is acceptance and recognition!

and sooner or later they will get their fifteen minutes of 'fame' when their names are exposed!

October 12, 2007
07:06 AM

I wonder though,sometimes, how much of plagiarism is inadvertent? Kavya Subramaniam,for instance. She couldn't possibly have done it on purpose - more likely she actuallyinternalised the story so much as a young kid 9she would have been only in mid-teens) that when she started writing the Opal mehta story, she didn't even realise she was copying some sections from the other book.
You think?

October 12, 2007
07:36 AM

annamma... how do you inadvertently copy something word for word? a general idea, yes. a storyline you heard then forgot about, maybe. but whole passages outright? no way, jose. that is plain plagiarism.

October 13, 2007
11:33 AM

there are two kinds

one that is caught, refrains and disappears - s/he can be forgiven

the other one is rather brazen and shameless - they continue even after being caught - their need for recognition and acceptance over weighs the risks of being caught, exposed and condemned...this kind needs psychiatric help

Zunaira Sohag
October 19, 2007
07:18 AM

Zainub great work once again! And as for TPS, I have great respect for them, I am sure it will be better off than having such bloggers who take plagiarism as an avoidable mistake

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