Friday, November 05, 2010

On Cooks Source, Copyright Infringement, Pirating, and the power of the internet

November 4th 2010 might forever be known as the day the internet fought copyright infringement. Most of you are likely already familiar with the events surrounding Monica Gaudio and Cooks Source Magazine, but for those new to the story (were you away from your computer yesterday?) I'll recap very quickly.

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?


Simon said...

Yeah I read about this on another site the other day. Not surprised this sort of thing has happened before. I think one of the reasons it does not happen more is that is is a mob and it is hard to get it motivated and aimed in the right direction. The "Internets" is not a thing you want after you. Unfortunately it is not likely that this would happen to pirates, too many are involved in it or have done it to take action or even care.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I followed this event with interest and I have several thoughts. Yes, this sort of thing happens all the time. Occasionally I will quote another blogger - but I give credit where credit is due and I ask first for permission. Most people, especially in this age of Tweeting, do not ask for permission.

Pirating and copyright infringement are nothing new, it's just that the material is more accessible - years ago when I was a poor, struggling single mother, I submitted a short story to a well-known journal. I received a rejection letter. Three months later, I found my story printed in it's entirety with another author's name attached to it. I contacted the journal immediately and they told me that if I didn't like it, I could hire a lawyer. I couldn't afford a lawyer. The exact same thing occurred twelve years ago when a faculty member at a writer's conference I attended stood up in front of the entire group of attendees and read my submission, (I had to sub a short work prior to the conference), as her own new WIP. In this case, I was lucky - when I confronted the author who claimed the story as her own, she told me to piss-off. Fortunately, the faculty member who initially critiqued the story recognized it as mine and gave her hell. She was forced to eat her words and my story did not appear in any of her future works.

The one thing that I find troublesome is the use of the internet to bully anyone, even if they've behaved badly. And I wonder how many of the people who are outraged about this episode do share files, ebooks, music, movies - that's pirating and quite frankly, the only people who seem to get up in arms about pirating are authors, not readers.

Anonymous said...

The reprinting of recipes and articles and the downloading of your book from certain sharing websites are too different things. It is clear that this magazine was gaining an advertizing revenue from a magazine containing articles she had liberated from the internet.

That's a different thing from someone downloading your book without paying you. If you were talking about those ebay sellers who sell ebooks they don't have the rights to then I'd agree with you.

Just because you get alerts that your book is on a certain site and has been downloaded 10,000 times doesn't mean that if it was not available on that website that you would have got 10,000 sales.

Until authors and publishing companies can prove that they have lost income, nobody is going to take any notice. Going after your potential customers with fines and court action really doesn't help the cause. Every time the mpaa prosecutes a little old lady for downloading bible songs, they harm their cause.

Sorry to say but if someone is downloading something from a sharing website they weren't going to buy your book anyway.

Kalayna Price said...

Simon, I agree--the internet is definitely something you don't want after you! And no, I agree, everyone is jaded to the point of apathy to care about pirates. Stealing is stealing, but apparently all isn't considered equal.

Julia, I'm so sorry that happened to you! (and more than once!) Something like this often leaves the victim helpless because getting lawyers involved often isn't feasible. That's what makes Monica's story so amazing.

Anonymous, people rarely do anything for no profit. Let's take a file sharing site like as an example. This is an underground community where you can 'share everything'. The site rules say that users should not infringe on other's copyrights, but that is 99% of what happens on the site and there is little to no effort to stop that from being true. (There are take down policies, but they are next to worthless.) This community is funded by ads, same as Cooks Source. No, they aren't actively going out and stealing content, but they are willfully allowing their users to do so. And they are making a profit on those users stealing and using the site. How is that any different from what Griggs was doing?

purpleprose 78 said...

Downloading books illegally is still stealing. Just like this thing with cooks illustrated. If you weren't going to buy the book, why download it? Just asking...

Kalayna Price said...

I couldn't agree more, purpleprose. You either want something or you don't. And if you want something, the moral thing to do would be to attain it in a legal way. I'm not saying every single person who wants to read a book has to buy every single book they want to read--there is this free thing called a public library! Libraries are great institutions and these days you don't even have to set foot in them. Most now have ebooks you can rent from the comfort of your home!

Stealing is wrong, whatever way you shape it. And as I said to anonymous: when it comes to pirating, someone, somewhere is still making ill gotten gains from theft.

annie.b said...

Enjoyed the post and the comments.

Anybody still recording NaNo word counts? I'm up to 4,632.

Eridani said...

Honestly, I think this blew up so huge not because of the injustice of the author's work being stolen (although this was a pretty egregious example), but because of how snarky and mean the response was. That insult to added to the injury is what really motivated the backlash, I'd say.

Simon said...

This problem goes beyond the written word. Or even music or movies. though there was a study that suggested that pirated music or movies led to sales of the movies or music in the end. The same copyright rules talked about in the post and comments are the same with images. When working on a picture I try to use my own images if I can. Otherwise I could end up using copyrighted images without meaning to. Course I don't profit form my images right now but in the case of images the copyright transfers. so if I used a image that was not mine even if I just used a small bit of it. The resulting image copyright would not belong to me. At least this was the way it was explained to me in my PS course. Oddly enough art theft is a huge problem on Deviant Art a website designed for artists to post art on. It has not happened to me yet I hope but,there is always the possibility that it might. And unfortunately not much I could do about it.