When you post something on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, a forum – pretty much anywhere online – there’s a certain “expectation” that your words could be co-opted by someone else. I see recycled blog posts every day in my Google Alerts. Often the re-poster (read: content thief) is an obscure foreign website.

Some bloggers encourage this (flyte new media‘s Rich Brooks comes to mind). Others don’t. Whether they choose to do battle with these content thieves is up to them, but more often than not, they’re simply tilting at windmills.

Where the line is not simply blurred, but completely obliterated is when an actual magazine lifts content from the web. (Aside: As someone with a background in both journalism and content creation, this practice is doubly loathsome to me.)

Perhaps the most recent (and for my money, the most egregious) example of this is Cooks Source magazine, which has apparently been engaging in the practice on a somewhat regular basis. It only recently came to light when blogger Monica Gaudio learned that her post on medieval apple pie had been reprinted in the publication under a different headline. Yes, she was fully credited. No, she wasn’t compensated. Nor was she consulted.

While the infraction itself was bad, the magazine probably could have recovered with a simple apology, preferably accompanied by the $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism she requested when writing to voice her displeasure.

Managing Editor Judith Griggs’s response, however, could conceivably be the impetus for the magazine’s demise. At the very least, Griggs will probably be joining the ranks of the unemployed pretty soon. Gaudio was told that “the web is considered ‘public domain'” and that “It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of.” So not only is Griggs unfamiliar with copyright laws, she also believes it’s ok because “everyone does it.”

Since the magazine was caught red-handed and Griggs’s response made public, Cooks Source’s Facebook page has grown from 155 fans to more than 3,000. These new “fans” have inundated the page with complaints, insults and snarky comments. A particularly good one came from a “fan” named Richard Schwartz, who informed Cooks Source that he would be printing copies of the magazine to sell for $1 each. His reasoning? He found them online and by the magazine’s own admission, that makes them “public domain.” Touche.

Once again, behold the power of the online community to make or break a company.

No doubt to distance itself from the controversy (although the official line is “a new page as the last one was hacked”), Cooks Source launched a second Facebook page this morning with the plea, “For those of you who wish to be negative. Please use our other group. For those who are here as readers welcome!”

I don’t know who their community manager is, but he, she or they have handled this horribly from the start. If they honestly believe that a new page and polite request to keep things positive will shelter them from the backlash, they’re delusional. As of this writing (10:30 a.m. EDT), it only has 59 fans, but the number of comments is astounding. It won’t be long before those 3,000+ from the original page make their way to the new one.

Every action brings consequences, and in this case, they haven’t been limited to the online world. The likely involvement of larger entities from whom they’ve stolen in the past, namely Food Network and NPR. Those two will be looking for more than $130 for sure.

As if things weren’t bad enough, advertisers have pulled out of their agreements with the magazine. So regardless of whether Food Network, NPR and possibly others fight back, the death of Cooks Source could be quick – and very painful.

Now that’s one expensive apple pie.

The power of community, content theft edition

One thought on “The power of community, content theft edition

  • November 5, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Nice article, Derek. I have to spend some of my time chasing down scofflaws who take my content. I had an engineering firm lift a photo from my Web site and use it for the firm’s online portfolio. Fortunately, I was able to settle the violation. Then I had a magazine publish almost word for word an online feature I wrote on Bangor’s Great Fire of 1911. I started low with my compensation request. Got no response. I kept increasing my request as the months passed. No response. Finally I sued for much more than the article was worth. I won. The publisher had the audacity to address his check to “Ryan Rattins,” as though I was the one who had done something wrong.


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