On plagiarism and Ankit Fadia

On plagiarism and Ankit Fadia

In February 2013, Charles Assisi, Executive Editor, Forbes India published an article about Ankit Fadia. Please read. http://http://forbesindia.com/article/beyond-business/ankit-fadia-revealed/34793/0

An extract.
“For a very long time, I’ve despised you as a charlatan. There used to be a time when I thought you a script kiddie, or a skiddie if you will. You know what comprises those types—plagiarists who pass off software programs developed by others as their own. That is why on every forum that matters, I’ve rubbished your credentials as a hacker of any merit. I’ve openly accused you of shameless self promotion. And each time you appeared on television shows or in print as one of the most prominent experts on computing and security in the world, I’ve laughed my backside off. I told everybody who cared to listen you’re nothing but a bag of gas, whose reputation was built by shoddy journalists that eagerly lapped up the tall stories you doled out.

Like I told you the other day, I thought it impossible how the books you’ve authored until now could possibly have managed to sell 25 million copies. I thought it completely ridiculous on your part to claim you were contacted by American “intelligence agencies” for help to decipher an encrypted email sent by Al Qaida operatives post 9/11.

But after an email interview and five hours of talking the other day, all I have to say is mea culpa. You are perhaps one of the smartest 27-year-olds I’ve met in all my years in journalism. And I’m willing to bet every rupee I have you’ll go a very long way because you’re twice as smart as CEOs I know who are twice your age—and that you are exponentially smarter than I am.”

I posted the link on my Facebook wall. And here follows the conversation between Ankit Fadia’s first publisher, Joseph Mathai and Charles Assisi of Forbes. Pranesh Prakash, Centre for Internet and Society also responds on plagiarism. This is a conversation that took place on my Facebook wall on 28 Feb 2013. I am copy-pasting the conversation thread on to my blog as well with the permission of Charles Assisi, Joseph Mathai and Pranesh Prakash.

Joseph Mathai: I published Ankit’s first book when I was in Macmillan India. Yes it was written when he was 13, he turned 14 by the time we got around to publishing it, after getting it thoroughly reviewed. That was the “Unofficial Guide to Ethical Hacking.” In 2001 I sold the international publishing rights of the book to a company later taken over by Thomson Learning (now Cengage Learning), one of the few technical books sold abroad by an Indian publishing entity. It has been selling for about fifteen years now.
28 February at 12:34

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Joseph Mathai So the 25 million figure as the sales figure for his books holds true?
28 February at 12:48

Joseph Mathai: I don’t think so, but if you think of the number of titles and the number of years the actual figures would be impressive. In fact when people have asked me for sales figures I have told them in the absence of any independently verifiable figure it would be against my own interest to be honest. That was not the purpose of my comment, I wanted to share some facts which I think are in themselves impressive.
28 February at 12:58

Charles Assisi: The problem with that book though Joseph was that it was heavily plagiarized. All the pointers to that have been out in the open for a very long time now. For instance, http://attrition.org/errata/charlatan/ankit_fadia/unofficial.html
a summary of ankit fadia events demonstrating charlatan status
28 February at 13:04

Joseph Mathai: Yeah, those were the days when we did not have the Internet tools to pick up plagiarism at this level. But 32% plagiarism, that too from a variety of sources, in what was, even in its first edition, a fat book; is that such a big crime to place on the shoulders of a 13-year old. I have witnessed worse from adults, and people who continue to hold teaching jobs in government funded colleges and universities.
28 February at 13:24

Charles Assisi: Yes, it is. A crime is a crime and it cannot be condoned by people. If a child were to copy from another students paper in something as routine as a school exam, they are made examples of and penalized heavily. That is because you want them to grow up into individuals who place a premium on integrity. Condoning a crime simply convinces the perpetrators to believe they can get away with it. In the long run, it’s a lose lose for everybody. The perpetrator included.
28 February at 13:37

Joseph Mathai: “ ‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ said cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.’ ” When we refuse to take a more discerning view of the nature and scope of a “crime”, we do a great disservice. I merely wanted to add colour, shade and texture to a story that came across a little too monochromatic.
28 February at 14:23

Charles Assisi: Oh no Joseph. Not at all. Declining to take a discerning view would have meant not giving him a chance to defend the charges. But after corresponding over email, recorded conversations that lasted hours, and all facts double checked, then a story deserves to go into print. Monochromatic? If that’s what it comes across as to you, I’ll have to accept your verdict and respect it.
28 February at 14:42

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Joseph Mathai I have to agree with Charles Assisi. Plagiarism is a crime. It is the stealing of original content/ IPR created by an author without due acknowledgement. It does not matter whether the plagiarist is a 13 year old or an adult. It remains a crime. Using the lack of internet tools at the time of publication to gauge the extent of plagiariam done by Ankit or to say he notched up impressive sales of his book as some sort of justification, does not take away from the crime that it is. In any case in the days before (and now) Internet tools the onus lies upon the editor, publishing house and the expert readers to whom the manuscript is sent to spot the extent of plagiarism. Ask the copyright experts — Raghavender Gudibande R, Shamnad Basheer and Pranesh Prakash.
28 February at 15:24

Joseph Mathai: I am not denying that plagiarism is a crime. Even after assuming that the analysis is true I say that 32% in a 608 page is not a big crime. Collating information from different sources and bringing them together in one flow that appeals to readers is an achievement. If in around a third of the material this has been done wrongly then that is the measure of the crime. A crime is not a crime — it has its specificities, it has its context. The piece emerges as monochromatic because it does not explain the continuing success of Ankit Fadia. Or are you of the opinion that most of the people can be fooled all of the time.
28 February at 16:15

Charles Assisi: Surely, you’re kidding me Joseph! But I guess to each his own. Good luck!
28 February at 16:22

Charles Assisi: And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to change your opinion on what I wrote. That’s a view and I have to accept it. Just responding to the plagiarism bit because I’ve not hesitated in the past to sack people who’ve even attempted it. But like I said earlier, to each his own.
28 February at 16:25

Joseph Mathai: As a publisher of books we deal with authors to whom writing is at best a part-time pre-occupation. Plagiarism is a vexing problem that is faced in the textbook publishing industry, as textbooks are a synthesis of views already expressed in published books. For me the ideal textbook is Sumit Sarkar’s Modern India (published by Macmillan India when Tejeswar Singh was there). It sketched out the state-of-the-art on the subject, and the meticulously kept extensive bibliography worked liked innumerable labelled doors that allowed readers to explore particular aspects in greater depth if they wanted. The tragedy is that many textbook writers do not go to research based publications, but just synthesize three or four other textbooks to prepare a new one. This started happening in the days when IT could not be used to detect such practices easily. It had its advantages because the authors would compile the textbook in line with syllabi considerations and in tune with the way in which questions were asked in the university. Plagiarism was caught out only when authors recognized their content in books not written by them. Once publishers became familiar with plagiarism detection tools available on the Internet, we could see significant instances of 70-100% plagiarism. Which is why I consider 32% plagiarism a “minor crime”. Even in these situations we needed to deal with the situation. In some cases we could not afford to “sack” authors whose content showed plagiarism. This context calls for a more discerning view of plagiarism. I recognize that in a newspaper/magazine situation where a higher degree of professionalism is called for from your writers who you pay on a time-rate basis, you might need to have a binary approach to plagiarism.
28 February at 17:44

Pranesh Prakash: Joseph: The problem is not about having 32% of “non-original” stuff in a 608 page book. It’s about hiding the fact that it is non-original. And Jaya, I’d rather keep copyright infringement issues separate from those of plagiarism. Copyright infringement can exist even if you acknowledge your sources; plagiarism is about not acknowledging your sources. And while saying that, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite essays: “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem: http://goo.gl/2X0Vl
28 February at 18:53

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Thank you Pranesh Prakash especially for differentiating between plagiarism and copyright infringement. It is a fine distinction but an important one.
28 February at 18:59

Charles Assisi: Succintly put Pranesh. Have to share the piece. Thanks for the pointer
28 February at 20:46

Joseph Mathai: Pranesh I was talking about it from a plagiarism perspective itself, and the act of hiding the original source. In a situation where rampant plagiarism is seen I feel there is a need to look at percentages.

I liked the article, my own views reflect those of the postman in “Il Postino” when he is accused by Neruda of using Neruda’s poetry to court the love of his life. The postman dismisses the charge as being irrelevant saying: “Poetry belongs to those who need it.”
1 March at 07:35

Charles Assisi: Disagree with you Joseph on percentages. But love Neruda
1 March at 07:41

On 27 March 2013, Penguin Books invited Ankit Fadia to participate in Spring Fever 2013, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

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