The Cooks Source Scandal
The law is complicated, and IP law particularly so. Many of the rules of IP law seem to run contrary to common sense, are of questionable value, or are simply difficult to understand. It is rare to gain such a clear example of how badly it can confuse people than the Cooks Source debacle, in which a magazine editor manages to completely fail to grasp even a single aspect of copyright law as applied to the Internet.
The story begins here, wherein author Monica Gaudio discovers that the Cooks Source magazine (a relatively small publication with around 20,000 readers) published an article of hers without her knowledge or permission. She contacted the editor, and received a shockingly condescending and ignorant reply, claiming that the entirety of the internet was considered “public domain,” she should be grateful that the editor had corrected her spelling and grammar mistakes, and that this sort of thing happened all the time (as later investigation would prove, this was certainly true at Cooks Source).
It didn’t take long for this news to spread across the internet, fed by the sheer arrogant wrongness of the editor’s message, and the magazine’s Facebook page was soon uncovered, and as I am writing this is still overrun with people posting mocking messages multiple times a minute. As internet mob justice began to get into full swing, people began scouring Cooks Source for other examples of infringement. Apparently the magazine had been doing this for years, and had carefully chosen as its infringement targets small, defenseless sources such as NPR, Food Network, Martha Stewart, Weightwatchers and Disney. Under copyright law, copying recipes is permissible as long as they are just lists of ingredients. Cooks Source didn’t stop there, but copied the entire article which went along with it, an error in judgment which could well result in a flood of lawsuits of Biblical proportions.
The legal take-away from this is, of course, that the Internet is not public domain, and stealing from people can have serious consequences. The practical take-away is that the Internet is an incredibly powerful force that can draw vast amounts of attention in a short amount of time, and that if you manage to incur its wrath, it’s probably best to just hide in a corner until it finds a more interesting target, rather than stirring its wrath more. The incident does show that masses of Internet users are very good at finding examples of copyright infringement, which counterbalances how easy the Internet has made plagiarism in the first place.