The ‘Bloggers vs Frying Pan’ issue raises critical questions about copyright and content aggregation

Shrabonti Bagchi July 22, 2016 6 min

A group of around 20 Indian bloggers is going to serve a legal notice to the founders of The Frying Pan app, an Android app that collates and aggregates recipes. The bloggers, many of whom are India’s top food bloggers with total pageviews running into millions, are alleging that the app features thousands of recipes that have been lifted wholesale from their food blogs without explicit permission.

The Frying Pan is a venture by three New Delhi-based entrepreneurs, Naveen Rathee, Priyankar Baid and Priyanka Jain, none of whom have any experience in the food industry. The app, their first product, was launched earlier this year and has seen around 30,000 downloads so far on the Google Play Store. There is no iOS version of the app.

Rathee told FactorDaily that his product is a content aggregation platform, and uses the bloggers’ posts as per prevalent customs of content curation and aggregation.

Food blogger Monika Manchanda, one of the leading voices of the Indian lifestyle blogging community, has been mobilising efforts to stop what she and many others in the same situation see as outright plagiarism and copyright infringement. In a blog post published on Wednesday, Manchanda stated that, “As a blogger, plagiarism and theft of images and recipes is not new to me. My images, recipes, content has been stolen more times than I can count. But more often than not, it is either an extremely lazy person who does this, or someone who doesn’t really know that taking images from google is NOT the way to acquire images or it is a media agency who wants to save a quick buck on photography. Even in my long and suffering social media presence this kind of theft is new to me. The app The Frying Pan has taken 145 RECIPES my blog, along with pictures WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. In fact the whole app is based on collecting recipes and pictures from various bloggers and THEY DON’T HAVE PERMISSION FROM ANYONE.”

frying_pan_app_screenshot

Archana Doshi, one of India’s top food bloggers who founded Archana’s Kitchen, a community-based repository of recipes and food posts, which works with several food brands such as HUL, Britannia, Philips, Saffola, KitchenAid, and NutriFoods, also found out a few days ago that no fewer than 1200 posts from her website have found their way to The Frying Pan. While Archana’s Kitchen also aggregates recipes, these are explicitly shared by other foodies and writers. Doshi is sending a separate legal notice to the app’s founders. “The entire legal system is so lax, copyright infringement is so widespread, that these kind of people are taking advantage of it,” said Doshi. “A few months ago, The Frying Pan guys approached me for content sharing via a phone call. There was no email. I told them I was not interested. My website sees high volumes of traffic anyway and has a dedicated readership, so I didn’t see any reason to share my content with a new app.”

Other bloggers who have found a large number of their posts shared on this app without permission are Amit Dassana (805), Preeti Tamilarasan (695), Deeba Rajpal (115), and Hari Chandana (434).

“We are completely outraged by this theft. The app does not have any original content of its own, and all of it has been straight lifted from the bloggers’ websites — images and all,” Manchanda told FactorDaily. She concedes that the app does credit the bloggers with their recipes (see screenshots), and each recipe is provided with the URL of the blogger’s website, but Manchanda maintains that none of the 19 bloggers who are serving a legal notice to Rathee and Co. have given permission to the app to use their content. While it can be argued that ingredients lists and recipes are not “original content” in a strict sense of the term, Manchanda points out that the bloggers’ images, at least, are explicitly protected by copyright laws.

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A screenshot of the app

She herself was contacted on email by the company’s representatives in July 2016, seeking permission to “collaborate” and use her content, to which she replied saying she was willing to talk about it. She did not give consent, she says. “They didn’t get back and I forgot about it, till I suddenly found out a few days ago that 145 recipes of mine were on the app, with my original, copyrighted pictures. True, they have credited me with the recipe, but I did not give explicit consent to use my recipes and pictures, and there is a clear violation of copyright here,” says Manchanda, who has met with several lawyers and Intellectual Property rights experts on behalf of herself and the other bloggers.

FactorDaily reached out to Naveen Rathee, who said: “We launched the company The Frying Pan to build a platform that would aggregate food-related content on one platform. We don’t see this in any way different from the way news aggregator websites InShorts or DailyHunt go about aggregating news content. We are providing linkbacks to the individual bloggers.”

However, he accepts that the URLs in the app do not open in mobile browser windows but on an in-app browser, which means that the user remains within the walled garden of the app (news aggregators usually make sure that links open in media creators’ own websites, driving traffic). Rathee also says that they have provided value-adds to the bloggers’ content by indexing them, making them more searchable (within the app), and adding additional data such as nutrition value and indexing tags. “We aim to work with bloggers and create a community-driven platform,” says Rathee. “We have never claimed that any of the content is our own.”

Content aggregation is a murky area, for sure. Fair Use of content laws in India are inadequate and unclear. Indian copyright laws use the term ‘fair dealing’ with respect to creative works rather than the term ‘fair use’, which is more prevalent in the US and is broader in scope. According to the Copyright Act 1957, fair dealing of any work (except computer programmes) is allowed in India for the purposes of: “private or personal use, including research, criticism or review, and
reporting of current events and current affairs, including the reporting of a lecture delivered in public.”

This leaves a bit of wriggle room for news aggregators and other content “curators”, but under IP laws there is a limit to the amount of content you can use for commercial purposes, as The Frying Pan is doing in its identity as a commercial venture. In fact, venture capitalist Brij Bhasin, Principal – India Investment Lead at Rebright Partners, has stated that the founders of TFP approached him recently to raise funding.

But with the approaching legal notice, it remains to be soon how that, well, pans out. For the time being, Rathee says the app is taking down content from all the blogs whose owners have objected to its use.


Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.