Wick Communications

Pie in the face

In Online media on November 19, 2010 at 10:57 am

I’m sure you heard the one about the editor of a foodie magazine who routinely stole recipes and then made matters worse in a series of rude and legally unsound e-mails sent to one recipe’s originator.

In case you missed it, a writer named Monica Gaudio learned that a rather obscure cooking magazine had purloined her apple pie recipe only after a friend congratulated her on the story placement. Gaudio wrote to the editor, assuming an honest mistake, since she had not even been notified they were using the story they found on her personal blog. Instead, the editor laid into her:

“I have been doing this for 3 decades … I do know about copyright laws …. 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 actually gets worse from there, if you can believe it. (As an aside, if you ever feel the need to give someone a dressing down in an e-mail, consider first how it will look when the person you berated posts it to her blog, which is repeated in dozens of other blogs… Be careful with any written correspondence.) …

Well. The Cook Source editor is wrong, of course, in several ways. Things on the Internet are not automatically in the public domain. That is really a legal term that refers to once-copyrighted material after the copyright expires, which occurs decades after the author’s death (and even those copyrights can be extended.) Don’t assume that you are free to use things you find on the Internet. In fact, assume the opposite.

I found a great rehashing of the situation and some tips for avoiding copyright infringement on Deirdre Reid’s excellent blog.

The epilogue is that Cook Source ended up making a contribution to the Columbia School of Journalism, which is something Gaudio suggested, and to a New England food bank. The magazine also posted an unfortunate and defensive post stating that it was pulling back from social media – on which it was roundly criticized over the whole affair. (As of this morning, I coudln’t find it on the Web at all.) But editors did acknowledge they goofed and would seek written permission to use original work in the future.

— Clay

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