Nerd Rage: A Response to Internet Thievery

Everyone wants to be a blogger, and the reason is simple: Nothing makes you more attractive to a potential romantic interest than saying, “I’m a blogger.” Sure, athletes are popular, and so are musicians, I guess, but having opinions and writing them down and putting them online without any real hope of compensation? That’s hot.

So it’s no surprise that people are jealous of bloggers—so jealous in fact that they steal the content that we put online for free.

One case that’s been getting a fair amount of attention in the media recently comes to us from my coworker Russ. In a nutshell, the case goes like this: Cooks Source magazine took the content of a blog called “A Tale of Two Tarts” (which I was disappointed to learn is about desserts) by Monica Gaudio and published it, without permission (but with credit), in print. Ms. Gaudio contacted the magazine and was told this by managing editor Judith Griggs:

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!

Ms. Griggs said lots more horrible stuff, which you can see in the article “How Cooks Source Magazine Learned That Reputation Is A Scarce Good” on the website TechDirt.com. This story has exploded on the blogosphere, and has also appeared in reputable sources like The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and Time magazine, among countless others (seriously, it’s everywhere; just Google it). Cooks Source magazine’s Facebook page was crushed with comments (some of them hilarious, like “And Cooks Source was like ‘Dude, you *have* no pie article’ and ran off” from Cole Moore Odell, and “Cooks Source told Apollo Creed to fight Ivan Drago” from Jill Gallagher), and advertisers are bailing faster than Cowboys fans on the 2010-2011 football season. (Sigh. I miss baseball.)

In the Time magazine article, Gaudio attributes the uproar to “Nerd rage,” which is the greatest phrase ever. Well, the raging nerds aren’t just making obscure pop-culture references on the Cooks Source Facebook page; they’re turning up numerous examples of articles that the magazine stole from other sites, some of them pretty high profile. (See “The Cooks Source Scandal” on Edrants.com.)

As a blogger myself (hello, ladies!), I am at once concerned and elated. First, it seems that in spite of the little copyright symbol at the bottom of this page, I am in danger of having blogs that I spent literally fives of minutes writing about Comic Sans and the designated hitter show up without my permission in The New York Times and Orion magazine. And I’m pretty sure I saw something Shea wrote in Teen Vogue recently. On the other hand, writing these posts will be a lot easier in the future. Next week, tune in for page one of my new online novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

For the record, I am jealous that this happened to Monica Gaudio and not me, because the site Gode Cookery is getting more than a few hits these days.

Speaking of this happening to me, this happened to me! One Saturday not long ago (October 30, but who’s counting?), I noticed that IBD was getting an unusually high number of hits. In fact, IBD set a record for the most hits in a single day that day, and Saturday is usually our worst day of the week (probably because Jeff Miller is at work). Most of the hits we got that day were coming from Twitter, and they were landing on a post I wrote about the color blue two weeks ago.

I noodled around on Google to see if I could figure out who had Tweeted about IBD. After some research, I learned that the fine people at a site called COLOURlovers had alerted their more than 410,000 followers to the post. (Thanks COLOURlovers! We love you, too!) This is about 409,500 more people than the number we usually alert through the IBD Facebook page.

What I also discovered as I was Googling around was that my post appeared ver batim on another blog (to remain unnamed) with no credit or attribution. I commented on the post that I was surprised to see that the “author” also had a husky friend named Shea and how great it is that he roots for the same baseball team I root for. (Or maybe I just said, “Hey, you stole this.” Who can remember?) I was surprised, just minutes later, to get an email from the “author” with this response:

I just wanted to make a formal apology to you for what I have done. I have no intentions of claiming the work of yours to be mine and it is indeed of my fault not to clarify the source of the post. The post has already been deleted from my blog and I would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused and hope for your forgiveness.

I was satisfied with the apology and the quick action, but somewhat skeptical that the author had no intention of claiming my work as his. Unfortunately, this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. My father, who has authored a number of books on philosophy, was once contacted by someone who had questions about the Korean translation of one of his books. Dad had questions, too, like “There’s a Korean translation of that book?” The Internet has made this sort of thing all too easy and much more prevalent. Copying and pasting is not difficult, and having happened just by accident upon one instance of IBD being plagiarized, I’d bet there are more instances out there.

The important lesson of the Cooks Source incident is not just that intellectual property has the same copyright protection online as it does in print (seems to me that that should be evident), but that there is a serious level of misunderstanding out there. Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs’ understanding of copyright law—that she can use another writer’s work without permission or compensation in an ad-supported print magazine—is comically flawed, and she’s paying for it dearly now. But designers working with little to no budget should be wary: even something as simple as downloading a photo and using it in a newsletter without permission can be a breach of copyright law.

So this lesson courtesy of Judith Griggs: Don’t use copyrighted materials without permission, apologize profusely if you do so by accident, and know that if you screw up then act like an arrogant snoot about it, the Internet mob will crush you.