Anyone with a website knows their material can be easily copied by someone else. It happens all the time. And there is precious little the average website owner can do to stop it. The Internet, after all, is a huge place, and it’s unlikely the owner is going to stumble across his or her material on someone else’s website, much less have the means to sue for copyright infringement. So we’re all on the honor system, more or less. We put our material out there, we slap copyright notices on it, even though legally they are not required, and we trust that most people, most of the time, will honor that copyright.
There is a story breaking today, however, about a publication, Cooks Source magazine, that lifted a blogger’s story and published it without ever contacting the author and asking permission.
In 2005, blogger Monica Gaudio published an article about apple pies. Last month, Cooks Source copied the article, edited it, and published it both online and in print — with Gaudio’s name still on it. Gaudio’s entire article had been stolen, and she would never have known if a friend hadn’t seen it and alerted her.
Gaudio tried several times to contact the publication, asking for an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine, and a $130 donation (approximately 10 cents per word) to the Columbia School of Journalism. She finally got a reply from editor Judith Griggs, which said, in part:
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!
Colossal arrogance and ignorance. In a person who claims to have been an editor for thirty years! Editors across the Internet are aghast. Bloggers and other Internet users aren’t too thrilled either, judging from comments flooding the Cooks Source Facebook page.
No, the entire Internet is not public domain. Nothing on the Internet is public domain unless the author specifically says it is. Otherwise the material is considered copyrighted, even if it doesn’t bear a copyright notice. Period. It’s incomprehensible that an editor would not know this. Or would write a letter confirming her ignorance. Unless, of course, she was seeking the publicity/notoriety she now has.
Update: Follow this story with ongoing updates and links at “How Publishing Really Works.” Bloggers are finding more and more examples of Cooks Source having lifted material from other sources, including Martha Stewart, NPR, Weight Watchers, and Paula Deen.
See also: Time Magazine
See also: Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits