Copyright Laws: The Idiocy of Cook’s Source

Every so often, we discuss recipes and copyright laws and the nuances within. And let’s be clear, there’s a fair bit of nuance to copyrighting recipes. Rare is the day when one can point at something and say, “That’s just illegal.”

This brings me to Cook’s Source, a magazine that, until this morning, I’ve never heard of.

Cook’s Source bills itself as a “publication for food lovers in Western New England.” They give their magazines away at various restaurants. It’s one of those regional publications that likely sit in a pile close to a business’s entrance, along with other local free papers and tabloids.

They also provide content. As one might surmise from their title, that content is food related. Unfortunately, the content they’ve been publishing has been lifted from the Internet. This brings me to one Monica Gaudio.

Monica has a website called Gode Cookery. It is one of those websites that make the Internet such a joy. She has taken her passion, medieval cooking, and her research surrounding it, and put it up on the Internet for the world to see. I’ve come across her site many times over the past ten years or so, specifically when looking for information food from the past. A sample from her website includes an article called A Tale of Two Tarts. Note the copyright at the bottom of the page.

Now let’s review page 10 of Cook’s Source latest (I’ve download the page from their facebook account):

It’s Monica’s article…published without Monica’s permission, and without remuneration. When Monica pressed the editor of Cook’s Source about what happened, they…

…well, I’ll let Monica tell you:

After the first couple of emails, the editor of Cooks Source asked me what I wanted — I 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.

What I got instead was this (I am just quoting a piece of it here:)

“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!”

Um…No. The Web is NOT considered public domain. The Internet (of which, the web is a subset) is not in Public Domain. Most everything posted to the Internet is an intellectual property, and as such, comes with the law associated with it. In this case, copyright.

So, can Cook’s Source simply cut and paste an article found on the web, and use it, with attribution, in their magazine? The short answer is no. The long answer is hell no.

The whole point of copyright is to grant the owner of an intellectual property the means to copy, distribute and adapt the work. That right is granted by the owner to others, not taken by others from the owner. I’m explaining this at a high level here, and I’m sure that there are quite a few nuances here that I’m missing, but for the sake of brevity, this definition will do.

So is it plagiarism? No. Cook’s Source didn’t try to pass this off as their own work. They did, however, massively violate the copyright. That makes them ignorant of the law.

That they suggested:

  • That Monica should pay them for the right of editing her work, and for giving her free publicity.
  • That they suggested they should have/could have plagiarized instead.

…that simply makes them unethical idiots.

(Note: I am claiming Fair Use for the graphic on this post. Without this graphic, it’s makes it more difficult to explain the context of the larger issue. )