Until yesterday, Cooks Source was a sleepy, anonymous little magazine about food that was distributed for free to maybe 20,000 people in western New England. The magazine publishes quaint stories about harvest fairs, recipes, gluten-free diets, and so on. The only problem is, many of the stories have apparently been lifted off the Web without the permission of the writers.
When that fact came to light, Cooks Source found itself at the center of an astonishing internet firestorm that has raged around the webosphere, tangentially touching entities as far-flung as NPR and local writer Neil Gaiman.[jump]
The story began Wednesday when a blogger named Monica Gaudio wrote a post about how she learned, through a friend's innocent inquiry, that Cooks Source had published an internet article of hers about the early origins of apple pie recipes. The magazine had reprinted the story under her byline but decidedly not with her permission.
Gaudio naturally contacted Cooks Source for an explanation. Publishing the story without Gaudio's knowledge was bad enough, but it was the haughty and clueless response from editor Judith Griggs that set a match to the copyright powder keg.
"I do know about copyright laws," Griggs wrote. "It was 'my bad' indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds sometimes forget to do these things." Fair enough, and if Griggs had stopped there the two might have had the basis for an amiable settlement. But Griggs went on:
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!"
Gaudio's post of Griggs's insufferably condescending dismissal (not to mention her startling assertion that everything on the web is public domain) started to make the rounds of the Web, slowly at first, then building steam, and finally reaching critical mass. As news spread virally via websites like Metafilter, Reddit, Fark, Gawker, and Gizmodo, and in tweets from cultural vectors like actor Wil Wheaton and Gaiman, netizens began descending on Cooks Source with the full might of their righteous fury.
Angry responders began crowd-sourcing other examples of Cooks Source indiscretions and began a discussion page on Cooks' Facebook account that so far has five pages of examples of Cooks stories lifted from other places--including one from NPR, Weight Watchers, the Food Network, and many more..
Another Facebook page lists the magazine's advertisers, with a call to let them know the web mob's displeasure. The crowd also began flaming Cooks' Facebook wall, with examples of all the other monstrous things the magazine is responsible for (examples: "Cooks Source got my sister pregnant"; "Cooks Source Magazine caused the Permian-Triassic extinction.")
The Cooks Source controversy already has its own Wikipedia page, and the magazine may well become a digital textbook example of how not to respond to grievances in the internet age. At the very least, the tiny, once obscure magazine is now finding out whether the old trope is true that "there's no such thing as bad publicity."