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Stealing Content: Magazine Lifts Bloggers Article

By Jason Beahm | Last updated on

There's a new trend that's sweeping the nation. It's called the reverse apology. It works like this, beat someone up, steal from them, or find some other way to hurt them. Then, after you are caught red handed, admit to doing it and say that an apology is in order. From them!

The editor of Cook's Source magazine, Judith Griggs, recently tried out the move. (Perhaps inspired by the Rand Paul supporter who kicked a woman in the head and then demanded an apology from the women he kicked?) In Judith Griggs case, she lifted a recipe and blog post from college student Monica Gaudio. The post was entitled "A Tale of Two Tarts" and explored the differences between a 14th century English apple pie recipe and one from the 16th century. Griggs did list Gaudio as the author, but made no effort to contact her or otherwise license the content. Apparently Griggs believed she was perfectly within her rights.

A friend of Gaudio's discovered the stolen content and alerted Gaudio. Monica Gaudio contacted the editor, Griggs, and requested an apology and a donation of $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism. The reply has been called "the email heard round the world." Griggs wrote the following:

"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 ..."

There is so much wrong about the email, but I'm going to focus on the words "public domain."

Apparently, Griggs believed that anything printed on the internet is in the public domain. This makes me want to slap my forehead. Generally speaking, anything that a person writes on their website is automatically covered by copyright protection. Nothing has to be filed. You don't even have to put the little c with a circle around it (although it is a good idea). Copyright law does have quite a few wrinkles to it. For example, a recipe does not receive copyright protection, though the surrounding text that goes into the description does.

Nevertheless, this case is an excellent example of the trouble that misunderstood legal terms can create.

Now it seems that things are only getting worse for Griggs and Cook's Source. Thanks to her spectacular misunderstanding of intellectual property law and her terse emails, the internet has rallied against her. She is in jeopardy of facing a lawsuit. And now news is coming out that Griggs may have stolen content from a number of mainstream sources including NPR, Martha Stewart, and the Food Network.

So here is the lesson for the future: if you are taking someone else's work and using it for your own, you are violating their copyright. There are exceptions, like fair use, but if you don't understand precisely why the content you are taking can be legally lifted, you shouldn't do it.

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