Facebook Backlash Inundates Food Magazine Over Content Theft

While Facebook pages are a good way for companies to communicate with consumers, they’re also a good way for citizens to vent their rage at wayward companies. Communication goes both ways.

We saw the mess that protesters made of Nestlé’s Facebook page after a run-in between the food giant and Greenpeace over the issue of palm oil in chocolate. Now it’s a small regional food magazine that is feeling the heat – and deservedly so, from the sounds of things.

It appears that Cooks Source magazine, a “publication for food lovers in western New England”, has been filling its pages with stolen content. When a writer wrote to complain about the theft of her article, she received an email from the editor telling her that everything on the web was public domain and she should be grateful for the exposure and the fact that the article was improved so greatly by the magazine’s skillful editing. Now, the magazine is finding that the internet can bite back – the Cooks Source Facebook page is flooded with outraged comments and advertisers have started pulling their support.

The saga is outlined by the writer Monica Gaudio on her LiveJournal blog and also by her friend Nick Mamatas on his LiveJournal blog. The original article was about medieval apple pie and published as “A Tale of Two Tarts” on Monica’s own website Gode Cookery with a clear copyright notice.

Gaudio found out that her article had been republished in Cooks Source with the headline “As American As Apple Pie – Isn’t!” and her byline. Cooks Source is a for-profit news-stand title funded by advertising, yet they apparently used the article without compensation both in print and also on its Facebook page. She contacted them and after ascertaining that it wasn’t an innocent error, she asked for an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism.

What she got instead was an email from managing editor Judith Griggs (which AllFacebook has seen in full). This 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!”

Griggs’ spelling and grammar mistakes aside, her response is factually wrong and breathtakingly arrogant. Anyone in a senior editorial position should know that material on the web is protected by the same copyright laws that protect content in other media. Plagiarizing content and not compensating the original creator is, quite simply, illegal. For a professional editor to compound such an error by using such a condescending tone and suggesting the victim should be grateful for the injustice beggars belief. (I also don’t agree that the new version of the article was “better” – it was more journalistic, while the original was more scholarly – but that’s a different argument).

And it looks like they might have stolen other content too, including possibly from NPR and Food Network.

I first saw the story on Twitter this morning and as a professional writer, I was following it with interest. I saw it starting to be picked up Gawker and Boing Boing but I became interested on behalf of AllFacebook, when people took the fight to Facebook. There are now hundreds of new fans – many of which are ‘unliking’ immediately after leaving a comment – and pages of comments condemning the magazine and Griggs. Many people are calling it “Crooks Source”.

Richard Swartz writes:

“Dear Cooks Source,
I would like you to know that I am reprinting every issue of your magazine, and selling it for $1 an issue. Why, you may ask? Because I’ve found them on the internet, and after all, as your own editor says, everything on the internet is public domain. And so, as per the logic of the person who is the mouthpiece for Cooks Source Magazine, there would be absolutely nothing you could do about it. And you should be grateful that someone as prestigious as myself would be reprinting your material.
Cordially,
A Sardonic Reader”

Tatyana Skymykra writes:

“Cooks Source Magazine and Judith Griggs should be ashamed of themselves. Not only what they did was highly unethical but also illegal. I hope that there’s a legal recourse in works to rectify the unlawful aspects of their actions, however, it appears that the verdict is already in in the court of public opinion. A great ‘Most effective ways to ruin your business’ case study.”

Michelle Crash:

“Disgusting. Judith Griggs should be blackballed from the publishing industry.”

This could cost the magazine more than mere embarrassment. There have also been comments from people claiming to represent advertisers, who said they’ll pull their support of the magazine.

“As an advertiser, we are disappointed in Cook’s Source and we are pulling our ads from this publication. Many of us (as is the case with our business) paid several months in advance for advertising and are unlikely to get any compensation back. We ask that you please stop emailing our business, we agree that the publication made a grave error, but the blame should be placed with them. Please do not make small businesses like mine pay for their error in judgment.
-Laura Puchalski (2nd Street Baking Co.)”

So far I’ve not seen any response from the editor or publisher or indeed anyone at Cooks Source. There are, however, now several Twitter accounts – @cooksource, @cookssource, @crookssource and @cookssource_mag – all of which appear to be fake.

I wonder if attention will turn next to sister publication Travel Source. It’s ironic that the Travel Source Facebook page, which so far has only 15 likes, says under the information tab:

“Travel Source is a monthly publication dedicated to marketing small businesses in Western New England. It is produced by Cooks Source Publications and is copy-right protected, and may not be reproduced without permission of the publisher.”


UPDATE 3.50pm: Griggs responded on the Facebook page about an hour ago and managed to not sound very sorry at all.

“Hi Folks!
Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry — my bad!
You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…” we used to have 110 “friends,” we now have 1,870… wow!
Best to all, Judith”

Wow is right. The insulting and condescending email to Gaudio (extracted above) was hardly an “apology”. Nor is this one in my opinion, despite the words “I’m sorry”. She’s only dug herself in deeper. And really, who says “my bad” in a serious apology?

Since posting that comment, and inflaming the masses further, Griggs’ most recent act was to change her personal Facebook profile pic to an image of a colander full of strawberries. (Hat tip to the Mixed Media blog on Forbes).

Throughout the day people have been assiduously trawling through Cooks Source content and finding more examples of copyright theft – such as this photo of poached pears that appears to have been lifted from Real Simple. While it was a blogger who started this whole firestorm, many of the alleged copyright infringements are against major media organizations with the budget to sue if they were so inclined.

Meanwhile, people are reporting that content theft is rampant at sister publication Travel Source as well, though I’m yet to see examples. The travel publication has seen its Facebook likes more than treble since this morning, with most people joining in order to leave negative comments. However, the comments on the Travel Source fan page number in the dozens rather than hundreds.

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