The Cooks Source debacle: the wider issues

Yesterday saw the internet, or at least one corner of it, experience something of a webquake. It all centred around an online resource/magazine called Cooks (sic) Source which, as its name implies, is aimed at cooks and defines its mission as (and I quote here) “to educate our readers in sustainable sources of foods and products, farms, restaurants and businesses; and to assist in readers’ understanding in the joy of simple basic cooking, and healthy, delicious eating… with an occasional decadent delight.” It seems that ‘decadent delights’, at least according to this magazine, include serious breaches of copyright and plagiarism.

It all started when a friend of Monica Gaudio’s, a LiveJournal user, congratulated her on the publication of her article on the history of the apple pie in Cooks Source. Monica was surprised because a) she had never heard of Cooks Source and b) she hadn’t been asked whether they could reproduce the article. She checked it out and there it was: her article in full. Her name was cited in the byline certainly, but that wasn’t the point – the magazine had neglected to show Monica the courtesy of seeking her permission to reprint it.

So, she wrote to them, pointing out the breach of copyright and asking for a printed apology and a donation of $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism. Instead, the editor of said magazine, one Judith Griggs, told her that anything on the web was ‘public domain’ (implying that she was free to lift whatever she wanted, wholesale, from anywhere on the internet) and also that Monica should be paying them because they’d edited her ‘poorly-written’ article (the fact that the title of the magazine is grammatically incorrect seems to have escaped their notice). This was either a case of startling naïvety or bare-faced chutzpah – clearly Ms. Griggs had absolutely no clue that copyright laws extend even to the content on the internet.

At any rate, the Cooks Source Facebook page was inundated with a storm of pejorative and sometimes vituperative comments about their behaviour. Twitter was fairly twitching with righteous indignation last night, twitters coming in in packs of ten or twenty at a time, all decrying the magazine’s blatant disregard for law. Advertisers have withdrawn their essential revenue from the magazine, clearly not wishing to be associated with it. It’s highly unlikely, given the sheer strength of the backlash aimed at Cooks Source, that they’ll go unpunished or that they’ll soon repair their much-shredded reputation. I also read that they’d pilfered material from Martha Stewart, probably the most famous (and richest) home-maker in the western world.

As some commentators have rightly pointed out, we can all be accused to some degree or other of stealing from the internet, whether it’s downloading a movie or music, or copying a picture to use as our computer desktop, for instance (or, in my case, taking something from an author’s blog that I genuinely thought was a generic picture until he politely pointed it out to me that it wasn’t  – I then moved mighty quickly to correct my faux-pas [as per his request] and immediately credited him in a caption beneath the photo and apologised). However, the Cooks Source case is something else entirely – the wholesale lifting of an article, changing it, uploading it to a website where the whole world could see it and doing so without asking for the necessary permissions. Just because they credited the writer doesn’t mean that it was alright to do so – although, to the rest of us, it would surely imply that permission was sought and given.

The beauty of all this is that, with the global reach of electronic media (and its tracking), the culprits were outed quickly and the news spread like wildfire. Indeed, the internet very much caught alight with lightning-like rapidity in the wake of the news breaking – the UK’s Guardian and the US The Washington Post carried articles on it. Even author Neil Gaiman publicised it on his Twitter feed. It does behoove us creatives to be ever vigilant, because, as the recent Richard Ridyard and David Boyer (Iron Dave/Doc Byron/David Byron/whatever else he calls himself these days) examples have also shown us, even the work of unknown authors has been stolen and passed off as someone else’s (click on the names for further info on these scammers). It also should be obvious that plagiarisers are much more likely to be found out, just because the internet is so ubiquitous.

Ms. Griggs’ probable defence that she was completely unaware that internet content wasn’t public domain won’t save her – she committed the act (compounded in many people’s eyes by her cavalier attitude towards Monica Gaudio herself) and has suffered unprecedentedly public opprobrium for the mistake. I can’t see how she, or Cooks Source, will ever come back from this. The fact that the magazine hasn’t apologised (as far as I am aware) speaks volumes and only serves to dig the perpetrators in even deeper into the mess. I am left wondering whether she now wishes she’d just apologised and made the donation instead. Just watch your backs is the message here.

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One Response to “The Cooks Source debacle: the wider issues”

  1. […] Ramblings of a Tattooed Head Book reviews, blatherings on books and writing, horror/alternative fiction, films, …. and life's little oddities. « The Cooks Source debacle: the wider issues […]

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