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Copyright gone copywrong: Cooks Source update

Too Many Cooks Dept.
By STEVE MILLER  |  November 17, 2010

It was the ill-informed e-mail heard 'round the world: "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!"

That was Judith Griggs, managing editor of the Sunderland, MA–based magazine Cooks Source, to part-time blogger Monica Gaudio. The correspondence was the eventual product of Cooks Source's unauthorized use of a 2005 copyrighted essay Gaudio had written for on medieval apple pie.

After finding out from a friend that Cooks Source had reprinted the article without her knowledge, Gaudio e-mailed Griggs to request an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism — the catalyst for Griggs's now meme-ified tirade.

The scandal broke on LiveJournal in the first week of November, igniting an Internet shitstorm. Overnight, the Cooks Source Facebook page gained thousands of not-so-friendly friends, and a group of cross-checking vigilantes created a Google Spreadsheet alleging 167 cases of apparent copyright infringement in the magazine's pages.

Web justice appeared to be served. But not all involved parties were pleased with the virtual maelstrom of Internet activism.

"I've been amused on the one hand by the huge reaction, and on the other hand a little worried," Elise Bauer, founder of and one of the Cooks Source copy-and-paste victims listed on the spreadsheet, said in an e-mail. "The kind of vitriol that has been hurled at this woman [Griggs] for basically being clueless and incompetent, is, I think, a bit too much."

In fact, many of the alleged copyright crimes committed by Cooks Source might not necessarily fit into the category of infringement.

"Recipes are such a gray area with copyright," Bauer said. "They are essentially methods, and methods are not copyright protected."

Griggs echoed this sentiment in an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and, according to the US Copyright Office Web site, recipes themselves cannot be copyrighted. However, the site notes that protection may "extend to substantial literary expression — a description, explanation, or illustration, for example — that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook."

In her interview with the Gazette, Griggs claimed to have complied with the initial request for a CSJ donation, as well as a $50 contribution to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Gaudio said last Friday that several donations have been made to the school in her name, but that there's no way of knowing if any came from anyone associated with Cooks Source. For now, she is just happy with the overwhelming response to her problem.

"I love nerd culture," said Gaudio. "And I love how the Internet came and supported me."

The Internet, it seems, also came and supported 2nd. Street Baking Company, a Turners Falls-based business and Cooks Source advertisers who found themselves inadvertently dragged into the scrum.

“We thought it was a pretty nice local publication,” said 2nd. Street co-owner Laura Puchalski, who first started advertising in the magazine a little over a year ago. “It seemed focused on supporting local business.”

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Related: The high-stakes overhaul of a newspaper website, Interview: Aaron Sorkin (''The Social Network''), Maine's broken e-mail system, More more >
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