Friday, November 5, 2010

Never Piss Off The Nerds

Cooks Source Magazine editor Judith Griggs has found herself in the frying pan and the nerds are turning up the heat. 

The New England based food journal evidently published a story originally written & published elsewhere in 2005. A friend of the original author contacts her to ask how CSM had gotten hold of the story copy. Said author conducts a basic web search and indeed finds the Magazine's website & Facebook page(s) here & here (ed. note: It is at this time unclear as to whether or not either of these Facebook pages are legitimate or the products of further retaliation by the growing angry mob). The author does, in fact, find her story, re-edited and published in CSM's online edition and ostensibly in the printed version too.

Author makes a call to CSM HQ. Author sends email to CSM via the website Contact Form asking them what had happened and how they had gotten her article? Author believed that maybe there had been some sort of inadvertent mix-up or that someone had perhaps "posted it to some sort of free article database". Further research indicated that the article had simply been copied off of a website owned by the author and sporting the author's copyright notice.

According to the author of the article, a couple of emails passed back & forth between herself & CSM editor Griggs before Ms. Griggs finally asks the author what she wanted in the form of compensation.

On the author's blog, she writes that she: 
"... 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."

Instead of meeting the author's request, an hubris-filled email response , so condescending, so completely unprofessional, arrived from editor  Griggs, a portion of which is posted below:
"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!"
You can read more about this story straight from the author's blog here. 

In the ensuing 48 hours since the story became public, evidence that CSM may be a serial infringer/plagerist has surfaced and the news has gone viral, complete with stories in the Washington Post & LA Times Blog. The magazine's Facebook pages have been turned into a screamfest of comedy... postings from "fans" pointing out that:

"Cooks Source killed Michael Jackson","Cooks Source trapped the Chilean Miners",  "Cooks Source makes Baby Jesus cry" ,"Cooks Source tastes like chicken"....

And on & on it goes... nearly 4000 comments on one of the FB pages and thousands (several since removed) on the other "potentially real" FB page. In fact, so much controversy has been created over the issue, that the most recent FB posting, ostensibly from Griggs or someone else at the magazine, posted in the last half hour reads:
"Cooks Source Mag Numerous derogatory posts have been removed and members banned and reported. Those people here to cause trouble are wasting their time. Don't you think that jumping on a band wagon just makes you look lily-livered?"
 Another FB post appeared yesterday morning, supposedly by Grigg's herself  reads:

 Cooks Source Magazine
 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
How's that for humble pie? Your original story sucked until I got my hands on it... you should pay ME for finding it, stealing it and turning it into something readable seems to be the gist of editor Griggs'  responding screed. The apology? Hmmm, well she did ackowledge that the controversy has generated "interest" in her rag.

And, as of now, her "fans" number more than 5131 and growing with each passing minute.
The point to be taken from this very public debacle is this: 

perception that anything found on the interwebs is "public domain" is as prevalent as ever. I lay much of the blame for this completely inaccurate view of web content squarely at the feet of former music file sharing sites like Napster & Limewire, both shut down by the US Courts for infringing on the rights of artists. Those decisions seemed to do little in terms of helping to sway that perception that content published on the internet is free for the taking.  Seasoned editors with "3 decades" of experience in the industry, as editor Griggs claims, should know better. The fact that she apparently is clueless on matters of intellectual property (not to mention punctuation & grammar--- where's the apostrophe in Cooks Source?) reflects poorly on not only Ms. Griggs & her employers past & present, but to us--- the community of artists, illustrators, photographers, writers and designers that fail --  first to © register the fruits of their labors & second, to enforce their rights when infringement occurs.

Let's just hope that author Monica decides to put the full weight of the legal system available to her to bear heavily on Griggs &
CSM. They were given the opportunity to pony up & do the right thing... a cheap & easy fix which would have been belatedly satisfying to both parties. Instead, Griggs offered a left-handed critique of Monica's work, an admission that the practice of infringement was standard operating policy and a very public non-apology. Nothing short of an overwhelming defeat in the courts and the promise of punitive damages would appear to make this publisher stand up & take notice.

The nerds have time on their hands--- can make life miserable for you when you offend their sense of right & wrong, especially when they are right & you are wrong. 

CSM & Griggs are not alone in their beliefs that online content belongs to everyone (available is a very different thing than belong. Thus far, the courts have been most consistent in confirming that infringement, be it online or elsewhere, is wrong, illegal & prosecutable). That perception will only grow, ultimately affecting all of us in the long run, unless we are willing to enforce and protect our rights to control our work. The internet is now a necessary & required method of reaching out, promoting our work, communicating with others and accessing information. It's a blessing. It's a curse. It's the wild-west, anything goes etherworld, requiring caution, care, attention and a workflow & operating plan that aids in protecting the work you publish there.

Nerds are cool! 

(ed. note: As of 12:30PM, CPT Time, CSM's two Facebook Pages have gathered a combined total of 5220 "fans", 89 new "fans" in the past half-hour---3350 more since posting her "apology" yesterday.)

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