A prominent professor in India spent several hours in jail last week over allegations of plagiarism and copyright infringement. But while he was released within a few hours of his incarceration, the story has brought a long-running plagiarism controversy, one with over a decade of history, into the national and international spotlight.
The case focuses on professor Deepak Pental who, prior to this past week, was best known as a noted research and former vice-chancellor at Delhi University (DU) between 2005 and 2010. However, according to another professor at the university, Professor P. Pardha Saradhi, at least some of that research is based upon plagiarism.
According to Saradhi, between 1995 and 1999, he and a team were working on genetically modifying Indian Mustard. In the next year, 2000, a PhD student working under Saradhi, KVSK Prasad, was appointed by Pental to work at DU on a similar project. Saradhi then rejoined DU in 2001 and, in 2004, became aware of what he felt was plagiarism.
According to Saradhi, he complained to the university in 2008 but, when he did not get a satisfactory result by 2009, he then approached the courts. He alleges that, while Pental was not the main plagiarist involved, that he was aware of the issues and complicit in the act.
An arrest warrant is also out for Prasad, who is currently in the United States.
While the allegations certainly include plagiarism, they also include accusations that Pental and Prasad conspired to take some of the genetically modified seeds and use them in their own experiments. This despite the fact the research destroyed the product, failed to generate new results and was not done in compliance with the handling of hazardous materials.
Prental was arrested and held in jail for several hours. However, his lawyers argued that the arrest was improper and that the trial court has passed the wrong order. The high court judge, only a few hours after his arrest, ordered a stay of the arrest warrant and released Prental.
But the arrest was more than enough to push the case into the spotlight both within India and internationally, taking what was a previously a local affair and make it headline news.
Prental, for his part, says he only gave lab access and that he was dragged into the case “without justifiable cause.” Prasad, however, has not commented on the case as of this writing.
But even if Prental doesn’t face any further action, the mere fact that an alleged plagiarist, whether Prental or Prasad, faces potential jail time is extremely rare, but Prental wouldn’t be the first to face criminal charges.
In 2013, a Polish professor, Stainlaw T., faced prison over a book he submitted for publication. That’s owed primarily to tough copyright laws in the country, which means that any copyright infringement, no matter how small, can be prosecuted criminally, even priests who plagiarize in their sermons.
That, in turn, is also what is taking place with Prental and Prasad. They are being charged criminally under the nation’s copyright law which, unlike the law in the United States, makes such prosecutions possible.
But regardless of the outcome of the criminal case, one thing is certain, that Prental’s career, rightly or wrongly, will be largely defined by this incident. Simply searching for his name turns up dozens of stories about the case. Only his Wikipedia page makes no mention of the allegations currently. However, it’s likely only a matter of time before it does.