Lifting of blogger's story triggers online furor

Writer says Cooks Source magazine editor stole her online story, printed it without permission, and defended that action by saying anything on the Internet is public domain.

A magazine accused of publishing a blogger's story without permission has seen a dramatic rise in the number of its Facebook friends, although they're not all that friendly.

The tale of writer Monica Gaudio hit the Web on Wednesday after she reported that her story, "A Tale of Two Tarts," was apparently lifted and published by the print magazine Cooks Source with her byline, but without her knowledge or any compensation. After tracking down the editor at the magazine, Gaudio asked for an apology on Facebook and in the magazine, as well as a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.

Instead, she said she received a rather unexpected response from the editor, Judith Griggs, quoted in-part below:

"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 offense 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!"

After Gaudio went live on her blog page with details of the transaction, and other blogs picked it up, it didn't take long for the viral nature of the Internet to take hold. Cooks Source's Facebook page, which had only around 100 "friends" beforehand, took on a whole new popularity, though probably not in the way the magazine wanted.

Facebook

From among the more than 3,800 friends who have since "liked" Cook Source's Facebook page in order to vent their comments, many have been telling the magazine just what they think of it, while others have attacked Griggs both personally and professionally. Beyond the Facebook page, stories about the incident have hit top news sources and a host of blog posts.

Faced with the torrent of nasty comments, Griggs or at least someone with access to the magazine's Facebook page, offered a response that just seemed to anger people even further:

"Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologize to Monica via email, but apparently it wasn't 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"

The frenzy has apparently forced Cooks Source to set up a new Facebook page after claiming that its old one was hacked. The magazine is also cautioning that any posts on its new page considered libelous will be removed.

Beyond the harm to the magazine's reputation, what legal issues does the incident raise? Does Gaudio have a case if she decided to take legal action against Cooks Source?

"The author does have a copyright in her work. That's without question," New York copyright attorney Alex Chachkes told CNET. "The question then is whether the magazine has an argument that their copying is fair use. Fair use is actually a pretty complicated analysis."

But Chachkes took issue with Griggs' claim that anything on the Internet is considered public domain. "It's not correct to say that just because something is on the Internet, it's public domain," he said. "Time Magazine publishes things on the Internet. I don't think anyone's going to say that you can take a Time Magazine article and republish it with or without the byline and then sell it in your own magazine."

Still, Gaudio might face a tough time if she did want to pursue a legal case against the magazine, according to Chachkes. "You know the saying 'Don't make a federal case out of it.' She would have to make a federal case out of it. It would have to be an action of copyright infringement."

Ultimately though, the magazine's trashing on the Internet is likely to be far more damaging than any legal or civil action it might ever face. "You know, the Internet's a funny thing, Chachkes said. "You tell people 'Imagine you're speaking simultaneously to your friends and to your grandmother.' Everything's published to everybody."

 

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