Cooks Source magazine commits a copywrong
November 5, 2010 | 2:28 am
A lot of people completely misunderstand the nature of copyright and the Internet. It’s a common misconception that anything posted to the Internet is free for the taking. It’s even been used as the “innocent infringement” defense in peer-to-peer piracy lawsuits.
But it’s less common to find a publishing-industry professional—in this case, the editor of a regional food magazine—who holds that opinion. But that’s exactly what happened to writer Monica Gaudio, who was startled to discover that Cooks Source magazine had republished one of her old essays, entirely without permission.
Gaudio wrote to the editor, complaining about the re-use of her copyrighted article and requesting an apology and a donation amounting to $130, 10 cents per word in the article, be given to the Columbia School of Journalism. What she got back was a snooty response that Gaudio should be thankful they “improved” the article by editing it and included it with proper attribution.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn’t "lift" your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!
Since Gaudio posted about this to her LiveJournal, the news has spread faster than an Internet meme. It’s gotten coverage on Internet news sites such as Gawker and Gizmodo, and the magazine’s editor has been mocked by John Scalzi.
A Facebook page has gone up to demonstrate that Gaudio’s was far from the only Internet article the magazine has plagiarized. People are also posting complaints to the magazine’s own Facebook page, prompting another non-apology apology from the editor.
Mike Masnick at Techdirt has an interesting analysis of the situation, looking at the damage to the magazine’s reputation and the way that the Internet community as a whole can act as a sort of balancing mechanism to redress what they see as a genuine wrong without having to resort to legal filings.
There are a few other interesting lessons out of this. First is that, contrary to what some people claim, you don’t have to be a "big name" to make these things work for you. People have a sense of when someone has been genuinely wronged, and they step up. So, Monica was able to get attention for this, despite not being "famous" in the conventional sense. Second, contrary to the claims that the various "online mobs" that hang out in places like Reddit "just want everything for free," various online communities have always shown a willingness to stand up against situations where they feel someone was genuinely wronged. And that should give you an idea of what they really think of various situations where some record label complains about file sharing. It’s a totally different situation, and people react accordingly.
As more and more content migrates online, mistaken attitudes that “if it’s on the Internet, it’s public domain” are going to have to change. Gaudio would be within her rights to file a copyright lawsuit against the magazine—as, apparently, would a number of other plagiarized sources, possibly including NPR and the Food Network.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this story develops.