The Cooks Source Fiasco

A woman wrote an article for a website. Some  years later, a friend of hers emailed her to congratulate her on “breaking into print” and to ask for tips.  Confused, the author asked when she’d done so, only to find that an article she released on the internet was reprinted in an advertising-carrying (meaning it was to make money) small-circulation magazine with her byline, but without permission or payment.   The woman objected to her material being used, and asked for three things, an apology on the Cooks Source Facebook page, an apology printed in the magazine and a fair price for the article ($130) to be donated to a well-known school of journalism.

She got this reply from Judith Griggs, editor of Cooks Source:

“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!”[1]

When the author reported this on her blog, the arrogance of the comment caught quite a few people’s attention, including a writer named Neil Gaiman, who tweeted about it to his hoard of followers.  To say reaction exploded would be something of an understatement.  As of this writing, the LA Times , NPRThe Washington Post, and several other news sources have carried the story in their online publications. As reputable news sources who do have an interest in online copyright issues, they may have snarked a bit at the editor’s arrogance and her appalling lack of understanding of copyright, but other than that, carried it as more or less straight news.

But it is the backlash on Facebook has proved to be appalling.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m a writer.  Letting someone know that they’re wrong about their understanding of intellectual property laws as they pertain to the Internet[2] is fine.  Calling someone on their arrogance is also fine.   Checking to see if they’ve pulled the stunt before[3] is also fine.

What’s not fine is the name-calling and harassment.  In my strong opinion, that crosses the line into bullying, and I’m not cool with that.  Personal attacks are foolish.  They’re not going to change behavior, but will only get that woman’s back up.  I don’t think anyone sensible really wants anything but an honest resolution to the situation.

When you want to join in cyber-activism, leave the potty mouth at home.  Call the person on what they did.  Don’t sweat what they are.  It’s not relevant and spins things out of control.  Stick to facts.

There is some speculation that Judith Griggs might have honestly thought for real that all material online is in the public domain.  If so, she doesn’t know enough about her profession to justify the sort of high horse response that she gave the author of the original piece.   I do doubt, at least in part, the veracity of her claims of experience.   I’ve only been a paid writer for a handful of years and I know the law on copyright better than she does.  There was no real excuse for that arrogant and wildly inaccurate lecture.


[2] Basically, your work is copyrighted from the moment it hits the word processor.  Defending it is often problematic and expensive, but the law recognizes ownership of your own work, whether for print or for online publication.

[3] She has.  Paula Deen, NPR, Martha Stewart and Disney also have had work of theirs copied in her mag.  Whether or not she bothered to get permission, I do not know, though I can guess…  I do know that Paula Deen has referred the matter to her legal department.

2 Replies to “The Cooks Source Fiasco”

  1. I googled it after reading this post today (yeah, I’m lagging on my RSS feeds), and it appears that Cooks Source has done the right thing: apologized, made the desired payment, and also made additional payment. They’ve also announced that they are off FB for good and that their FB page has been hijacked by criminals (my word, not theirs, but it is a criminal action…)

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