Attention: The Web Is Not Public Domain

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Back in 2005, Monica Gaudio wrote a nice piece about apple pie recipes for a medieval cookery enthusiast blog. Five years later, her post appeared nearly verbatim—without compensation or permission—in Cooks Source magazine. And then it got worse.


Assuming an honest mistake had been made, Gaudio reached out to Cooks Source—a non-profit publication with a listed circulation of 17,000-28,000 readers—asking first for clarification, then for compensation (in the form of a $130 donation to Columbia J-School) and a printed apology. Instead, she got this response from Cooks Source managing editor Judith Griggs:

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 [sic] 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.

Which is several shades of incorrect! The "need of editing" Griggs is referring to involved fixing up all those pesky, true-to-period 16th century English spellings. As for public domain, let's use this as an opportunity to review the rules of the wild west we here call the internet, as shared by UMUC:

Copyright and Electronic Publishing

* The same copyright protections exist for the author of a work regardless of whether the work is in a database, CD-ROM, bulletin board, or on the Internet.
* If you make a copy from an electronic source, such as the Internet or WWW, for your personal use, it is likely to be seen as fair use. However, if you make a copy and put it on your personal WWW site, it less likely to be considered fair use.
* The Internet IS NOT the public domain. There are both uncopyrighted and copyrighted materials available. Assume a work is copyrighted.

Emphasis added.

So! Other than the reminder she should be outright grateful that at least her name was still on the piece, Gaudio hasn't received any apology or retraction yet. New media is still media, guys! In fact, you could argue that it's the media. So let's all play nice in the sandbox. [LiveJournal, Image credit: Gode Cookery, thanks Guru!]



Matt Brown

I did a skin for Winamp way back and someone else took it and put his name on it. Then, several of his friends decided to email me and tell me about how much of a dick i was for stealing his work and putting my name on it.

I thought it was really interesting that there were only two people in the world who would ever really know who did the original and who copied it. I also thought it was funny that all this guy wanted was credit from the internet; not credit for hard work, or even credit in a legitimate publication. weird, what motivates people.