Chances are you’ve already read about the controversy surrounding Cooks Source, a regional cookery magazine based in the United States. If you haven’t, I’ll summarise briefly here:
In a blog entry entitled ‘Copyright Infringement and Me’, medieval enthusiast Monica Gaudio revealed how she discovered a recipe she had posted online had turned up in Cooks Source without her knowledge or consent. Gaudio contacted the magazine to request that they publish an apology and donate $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism – fair compensation, considering the article’s length. Several emails were exchanged between her and editor Judith Griggs, culminating with this absolute peach from Griggs:
Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
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!”
Dismissive, eh? Not only that, but it’s littered with inaccuracies – not to mention grammatical errors (oh, the irony). The most shocking point is Griggs’ interpretation of copyright law in relation to the Internet. The Web is most certainly not public domain; all content is the copyright of the creator (although there are exceptions) and Gaudio’s right to be recognised as creator of the work is beyond question. The final section, claiming Guadio should remunerate the magazine for sub-editing her writing, is just laughable.
Within hours of Gaudio’s blog post, the story had gone viral. Her blog was inundated by visitors leaving messages of support, the Cooks Source Facebook page was overwhelmed by angry users expressing their annoyance and the magazine’s advertisers received a stream of calls from people urging them to cease their association with the publication. Twitter also played a central role, with the #cookssource and #buthonestlymonica hashtags proving hugely popular. Numerous other blogs picked up on the story before leading online news resources and national newspapers across the globe also got their slice of the action.
It’s a situation that could have been diffused simply by fulfilling Gaudio’s reasonable requests. But instead Judith Griggs has gone to ground and nobody at the Cooks Source office is answering the phone. There was a somewhat snotty, unrepentant response posted to the journal’s Facebook page but its authenticity cannot be verified. That arrogant silence is going to prove costly. Advertisers are now jumping ship in response to calls from Gaudio’s supporters and the negative news coverage is almost certain to affect sales, with the consequences quite possibly proving fatal for the publication. Even if it survives that, the Food Network, NPR and other large organisations currently have legal teams pouring over issues of Cooks Source amid more claims of plagarism. The fallout from any successful legal action taken by these companies will likely leave the publishers financially crippled. The outlook is bleak for Griggs and Cooks Source.
The saga reiterates once again just how powerful the Internet is at creating a fuss but, more importantly, it also brings the issue of copyright theft back under the spotlight, specifically in relation to bloggers and freelance journalists trying to earn a crust. The rise of the Web, and blogging in particular, has seen the instances of plagarism skyrocket, with unscrupulous editors hungry for cheap, readymade content harvesting articles from online sources and re-publishing them without credit or compensation. Monica Gaudio is just the latest in a long, long line of writers to discover their work has been hijacked. Where Gaudio differs from most, though, is that she has a means of fighting back (in addition to the online/media furore, she now has an attorney working on the case for her). Unfortunately, the majority of wronged bloggers and journalists simply don’t have the funds to pursue legal action. And that’s assuming they’re aware their rights have been breached – if the writer is based, say, in London and the offending publication is only available in Los Angeles, Sydney or Tokyo, then the chances of discovering the infringement are somewhat diminished. Unfortunately, the nature of the Internet means it’s impossible to police effectively but it’s a risk pro bloggers and journos will have to continue taking if they’re to make a living.