On Wednesday night Monica blogged about discovering that a post she'd written several years ago on apple pie had been reprinted in a magazine she'd never heard of let alone granted permission to print her piece or received compensation from. After emailing and calling the contact information (which used to be provided on both Cooks Source's home page and facebook profile), Monica was eventually asked what it was she wanted. She asked for an apology and a $130 charitable donation to the Columbia School of Journalism (which considering she'd been plagiarized by a for profit 'professional' magazine, her request was both kind and rather selfless.)
The managing editor, Judith Griggs, sent this sarcastic and inflammatory response (as reported by Monica on her blog)
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!
There are a lot issues in what Judith said, from the ignorant claim that anything released online is "public domain" (it isn't--if you publish something online you might forfeited being able to sell first publication rights, but the moment you create creative property it is considered to be under copyright) to her ridiculous claim that Monica should be grateful for the effort put into editing the piece and perhaps Monica should pay for the improvement to her writing portfolio! Well, it's no surprise Monica was mad--I'd be incensed--but like many victims of theft, I think she felt rather powerless and unsure what she should do next. So she blogged, vented a little (though very calmly and articulately) and asked her blog readers for advice.
I don't think anyone could have predicted what came next.
Monica's blog post went live around 11pm (according to the tag) on Wednesday the 3rd. By the middle of the day Thursday, other bloggers had picked up the story and authors like John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman tweeted links to Monica's post. That was how I first discovered the story. My first thoughts were along the lines of "Oh, that Griggs is in trouble now, this thing is going viral and she's going to find herself in a nice little tempest in a teapot." Little did I know that tempest would turn into a shit storm of massive proportions.
I'm not sure I've ever seen any story go quite so viral so fast. As the day unfolded, it was everywhere. Not just blogs (big or small) but Publisher's Weekly, the Washington Post, and other major players began reporting on the situation before the end of the day. The internet descended in mass on the Cooks Source Facebook page. (Even now, updates are seconds apart) At some point, it became a mob and more violent and hateful than Griggs's actions (however deplorable) warranted (such as her home address and phone number appearing at one point). But the internet (and yes, I am using the term to describe the hundreds of thousands of individuals involved and not cyberspace content) also organized to do some rather productive things as well. The sources of other articles featured in Cooks Source (which, according to their facebook page, has been around since 1997) were sought out to see if Monica's case was an isolated incident or if Griggs's standard policy was theft and plagiarize.
The early findings indicate Monica was not alone. Some of the people Griggs (allegedly) stole content from aren't small players either. An incomplete list of possible copyright holders include Paula Dean, Martha Stewart, Disney, and NPR. People also started tracking down the images in the magazine, and traced the advertisers to inform them they were involved with crooks. Most of those advertisers pulled their support from the magazine by the end of the day.
This was all by the time I turned off the computer last night. That happened in one day. ONE DAY. Guys, the internet has power.
This was organized (well, that's really not the right word--let's say accomplished) by people all over the country (and possibly the world) who don't know each other but who saw an injustice and fought against it. And all in the single day the story broke (and scarily enough, before the story could be confirmed, so I hope this story is true and has the happy ending of Griggs's career justifiably ending and other snippy, ignorant plagiarists learning from her example.)
Yes, some of the mob went too far, but I have to say I'm thrilled to see people crying out at the injustice of copyright infringement and theft of intellectual property. Granted, what differentiated this case from so many (so very many) cases was Griggs's belligerent attitude. I imagine a number of the links in this post will break in the next few days because Cooks Source is, well, cooked.
In the wake of this amazing rally of support (and internet justice!) I'd just like to cheer and count this as a score for all creative types everywhere. But I'd also like to point out that Copyright Infringement comes in another form. One which negatively affects every writer I know--Pirating.
No, there's no snarky, self-righteous evil editor to flame or bombard--mostly because pirating is so devastatingly widespread. I get nearly daily alerts of my books showing up on sharing sites, and I'm not alone. Just this morning a friend of mine whose very first book hit shelves last month was devastated to discover an explosion of torrents for her book--a book that she's been watching the sales rank of because in publishing, sales matter. Writers write, but we like to be able to afford to eat as well.
So, as we are all now hyped up and super aware of the evils of copyright infringement from our encounter with Cooks Source Magazine, can the internet please go attack pirating next. Please?