As a writer, I cannot help but get a chuckle out of this. For all its faults, the Internet is full of people with a strong sense of justice, and an ability to act en masse. The lesson that should be taken here is that a kind word is never amiss, that it usually stops trouble before it starts, and when you tick off the Internet, you’re going to have a very bad day.
R.J. Anderson happened to tweet about this Livejournal post. Apparently five years ago, a young woman named Monica Gaudio wrote an article entitled “A Tale of Two Tarts”, which described the history of the apple pie. She posted the article somewhere and set it aside, and thought nothing of it until a friend wrote to her, asking how she’d gotten the article published in a publication called Cooks Source Magazine. This was news to Monica, who had never heard of the magazine before.
But googling the magazine up, she found that, sure enough, the magazine had taken the article straight from the web site and reprinted it verbatim in their magazine. Monica was understandably perturbed. In her words:
I first phone the magazine then send a quick note to the “Contact Us” information page, asking them what happened and how they got my article… …After the first couple of emails, the editor of Cooks Source asked me what I wanted — I responded that I wanted an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation (which turns out to be about $0.10 per word of the original article) to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism.
All of that seems pretty reasonable to me. And indeed, had a magazine asked something similar of me before printing an article of mine without my permission, I might have said yes and allowed them to do so for a far more nominal fee (possibly even free). But whoever said that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission hasn’t dealt with authors who, in situations like this, often feel personally violated that their intellectual property could be so carelessly snatched from them and misused.
Had the editor of Cooks Source Magazine done what Monica asked, what followed would not have happened. But this is where the schadenfreude comes in. It’s one thing to make an honest mistake and own up to it, but when you respond to Monica’s reasonable challenge with arrogance like this:
“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!”
Well, then the editor deserves everything that she gets, which includes:
- A republication of this whole sordid affair on a number of websites and throughout Twitter.
- Dozens if not hundreds of individuals descending on Cooks Source’s Facebook Page, taking the time and effort to “like” the page just so they can post their considerable displeasure over the editor’s actions before symbolically “unliking” them again.
- Having curious individuals comb through the articles on the web site for other materials that may have been questionably obtained, resulting in the discovery of material that may have been lifted from The Food Network and National Public Radio, among others.
- Getting Neil Gaiman involved in support of Monica, which if history is any guide, will lead to interest from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, Wil Wheaton and a number of other individuals who should make Cooks Source very famous indeed, but not in a good way.
As soon as I saw that Neil Gaiman was posting his support, I almost felt sorry for Cooks Source magazine. Almost. Then I went back to the response the editor sent Monica, and those feelings went away.
P.S.: Oh, miss editor! Please note that the Internet is not public domain. And did your apostrophe anticipate the fallout and make a run for it?
On the Other Hand…