Monday, November 8, 2010

I Like Them Apples

By now, if you spend any amount of time reading news blips on the web, you've probably heard at least a little bit about the recent kerfuffle concerning apple pies, copyright theft, and vigilante justice on the internet. And if you haven't, allow me to share the story.

Much longer than I've been keeping this blog (or, indeed, doing most of my current online activities), I've been journaling the details of my life on a website called LiveJournal. It's been very useful in terms of this blog, because I can go back and find the specifics of past misadventures and then present them here. I also enjoy the community feel, and have met several of my current friends through the journaling system.

Last Thursday, shortly after I made my post here, one of my friends alerted me to the post of a woman named Monica. Monica is, like myself, a medieval enthusiast and a writer. Unlike myself, she actually merged those two facts and wrote a few pieces on the subject. One of these, which was posted at a website known as (no, that's not a misspelling), was about the history and evolution of the apple pie. Yum.

Monica's post to which I was directed, however, was about the fact that a publication known as Cooks Source had lifted the entire article from that website and reprinted it, with her byline but without her permission. She hadn't even been aware of the reprint; a writer friend of hers had asked her how she managed to be published in the magazine, and that one innocent question set off a magnificent chain of events that can best be described as a bomb detonation in slow motion.

Monica's actions were reasonable enough. She contacted the editor of Cooks Source to ask them what gives. The editor, a woman by the name of Judith Griggs, inquired what Monica wanted them to do about the situation. Monica suggested that a public apology was in order -- one in the magazine, one on the magazine's Facebook account -- and requested payment for their use of the copyrighted article. Specifically, she asked for $130 (ten cents per word for the 1,300-word piece), and even charitably asked to have it donated to the Columbia School of Journalism rather than sent to her directly. Not hard, right?

Ms. Griggs disagreed. The response this garnered was...actually, I'm not going to repeat it here. If you'd like to read it, it's over this way. It was frankly astonishing in both its smugness and its complete ignorance of copyright law. In essence, she told Monica that Monica should be grateful that her little two-bit magazine printed the piece with Monica's byline, instead of claiming that it was written by someone else. She even went so far as to suggest that Monica reimburse her for the "editing" she did to the article.

(The editing in question? "Correcting" the medieval English that Monica had used in the two recipes in her article. One was from the 14th century, the other from the 16th century. Monica had left the original spellings intact.)

Right. And if someone mugs me on the street and steals my purse, but then admits to it instead of trying to blame it on someone else, I should be grateful and just let the mugger keep whatever money was in my wallet. It makes about as much sense as what Ms. Griggs was suggesting.

Here's the real kicker, though: Ms. Griggs insisted in her email that it was perfectly legal to do what she did...because Monica's article was on the internet. And if something is on the internet, it's in the public domain.

Let me repeat that. In 2010, after a purported 30 years of experience in publishing, this woman thinks that anything posted on the internet is public domain. To use my mugging analogy, this is like the mugger telling me that stealing my purse was okay because I was in a public place at the time.

Suddenly I'm flashing to the movie Tombstone, when Ike told Wyatt Earp that "law don't go 'round here." I'm imagining Ms. Griggs in Cowboy getup, informing a card-dealing Monica that "copyright law don't go 'round here. Savvy?"

From what I understand, all Monica intended to accomplish by posting the news was to vent to her friends (LiveJournal is awesome for that) and find out if any of them had opinions as to what she should do. Was it worth hiring an attorney or pursuing it farther, etc. Instead, what happened was that one of her friends, Nick, repeated the story to his friends.

Nick's friends, as it turns out, include John Scalzi. And thus began the revolution.

The power of the internet is swift and terrible. We are legion, and we are coming for you.

Within 48 hours the story was viral. Celebrities posted it on their blogs and Twitter accounts, instantly sharing the mess with thousands of people at once. From there it all went crazy. The Cooks Source Facebook page was taken over by hundreds of people, and the magazine's website was hit so hard by visitors that the server was overloaded.

Both the Facebook account and the magazine's website were swiftly edited (by Ms. Griggs, I presume) to remove any evidence of articles or copyright infringement. But not swiftly enough, because the damage was done. Screenshots were taken and the investigation began.

Apparently, Cooks Source has been doing this for years. Evidence quickly surfaced to show that they had taken both articles and photographs not only from individuals, but corporations. Last I heard, those who had evidently been ripped off included NPR, Martha Stewart, Paula Deen and the Food Network, and Disney.


They stole copyrighted material from the company that essentially writes the copyright laws. Folks, this is what planned career suicide looks like, right here.

Anyway, I won't bog down this post with more details about the actual news. If you want to read more about it, this is probably the best article available; you can also read about it on Wikipedia.

What's kind of fun is the internet's other reactions. See, some of the things people have done are sensible -- the research into other copyright thefts, finding and contacting the businesses which advertise in Cooks Source and letting them know what they've been supporting (many have pulled their ads already), that sort of thing. But others, while somewhat juvenile and petty, are nevertheless pretty funny. The Facebook account is filled with Chuck Norris facts-style claims about the magazine. Some of my favorites:
  • Cooks Source started the Great Chicago Fire.
  • Cooks Source was on the grassy knoll.
  • Cooks Source didn't get enough hugs as a child.
  • Cooks Source thinks a website is a condo for spiders.
  • Cooks Source is with Dick Cheney in an undisclosed location.
Actually, that last one may be true. Nobody has been able to reach her.

There's the tribute song, which is actually quite catchy. There's also a video which purports that Hitler is the real editor of the magazine; it might not be funny to those who don't know about internet memes concerning things like Ceiling Cat, but if you want to see it, here it is. The website "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" has appropriated the editor's name and defined it as meaning the act of stealing someone's work and then suggesting they pay you for it. (I wonder if they'll try to get Ms. Griggs to pay them for this...)

The thing is, all of this hilarity (and serious concern) would never have happened if the woman had just gone along with Monica's reasonable demands. The way things stand, she's certainly losing her business, and may lose a lot more in the way of personal assets; I know a representative of Paula Deen has stated that the matter is being handled by her legal department, and I don't imagine the Mouse will be any less quick to act. The only reason she's gotten away with it up to this point is by flying under the radar; Cooks Source (which needs an apostrophe, dangit) is apparently only circulated in a small region of New England. So if you're wondering why you never heard of it until now, it's because almost nobody has.

But there's something to be said for the way people have responded. As I remarked to my husband, it's wild to see pretty nearly the entire internet in agreement about something. You just can't say that everything online is in the public domain and then be surprised when internet retribution happens. Writers, artists, photographers, anyone who creates tends to be at least a little possessive about what we've done; just because we share it with the world on the internet doesn't give anyone the right to take it away. Copyright exists for a reason.

Oh, and this entire post is mine. I know you were thinking of taking it and "editing" it a little bit, and then republishing it someplace else, and if I found out about it you were totally going to charge me for the service. But honestly Monica! Maybe you should pay me for the privilege of reading my blog!

(Then again, if you want to do exactly that, I could retire a lot sooner.)


  1. And if someone mugs me on the street and steals my purse, but then admits to it instead of trying to blame it on someone else, I should be grateful and just let the mugger keep whatever money was in my wallet.

    Actually, it would be more like a mugger stole your purse, then said, "You know, this bag is so last season, I'm really doing you a favor" ... hahaha. Ridiculous.

  2. HAHAHAHA! Well said! I'm so glad you wrote about this hilarity. Also in wholehearted agreement that it's nice to see everyone agreeing about something, anything!

  3. Heard this story on NPR last night. On the radio.

  4. I am not sure about the validity of the following statement, due to the fact that Cooks Source stated that someone had "hacked" their website. However, there is a rather lengthy apology posted on the Cooks Source website as of this morning. I won't believe though until I see confirmation from Monica either on her blog or Twitter account. Great article! Thank you!

  5. Your Cooks Source website url is missing an s in your post. I thought the website was taken down when I clicked your link, but the actual website is still up and now contains an "apology", lame as it is.

  6. @salome121 -- thank you! (Or should I say "my bad"?) I fixed the address in the post.


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