No, the web is not “public domain”

If you haven’t been following the mind-boggling copyright infringement kerfuffle that’s currently setting the web on fire, here’s a quick recap. A copyrighted article was copied off a website and published in a print magazine named Cooks Source without the knowledge or consent (or payment) of the author, Monica Gaudio. When Monica found out, she contacted the magazine’s editor, Judith Griggs:

After the first couple of emails, the editor of Cooks Source asked me what I wanted — I responded that I wanted an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation (which turns out to be about $0.10 per word of the original article) to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism.What I got instead was this (I am just quoting a piece of it here:)

“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!”

That’s the very definition of chutzpah.

This is a case of copyright infringement, not plagiarism. It would have been plagiarism if the magazine had published the article without crediting the original author. The magazine made unauthorized use of material protected by copyright. This could be quickly resolved if both parties reach a settlement, or else the magazine could theoretically be sued and face financial penalties, though that is unlikely, as the legal fees would be prohibitive. However, I suspect the magazine is not long for this world, as on the magazine’s Facebook page advertisers are pulling out and people are identifying other examples of copyright infringement. If they’ve copied material from major food magazines or websites with deep pockets and lawyers, they’re toast.

Some related links:

Update 1: A post on “How Publishing Really Works” has more information and links, and it points out a new Facebook page for reporting the original sources of other articles published in the magazine, which apparently include the websites of Food Network, Paula Deen, and Martha Stewart, among other big names.

Update 2: BoingBoing, Gawker, and The Consumerist have now picked up the story, and the Twitter storm continues to grow.

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