Small magazine vs. angry mob: Angry mob wins
The full fury of the social Web has been unleashed over the past 24 hours on a small, independent publication called Cooks Source, after the publication’s editor sent a snarky email to an author who had contacted the magazine about using one of her articles without permission.
The author, Monica Gaudio, recounted the exchange in a post titled “Copyright Infringement and Me.” She also reprinted part of the email she received from the editor in response to her query and her request that the magazine apologize and donate $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism. Excerpted here:
"I do know about copyright laws. … 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!"
The editor’s arrogantly ignorant response was more than enough to touch off alarm bells among the journalism and fair use cognoscenti. The outraged masses quickly targeted the Cooks Source Facebook page for a flame campaign that, even in this age of instant meme, seems epic in its pace and volume.
So what happens when a small indie magazine meets up with an angry, empowered Internet mob? The mob wins. The publisher has no real website to speak of, so its Facebook page became an easy target for an ongoing stream of negative comments and obscene postings. Spoof Twitter accounts (in both the Cooks’ name and the editor’s) soon followed. The publisher set up a new Facebook page that is likely to be targeted as well.
The response has been so over the top I wondered if the whole thing was a hoax, but the magazine seems legit – well, at least in regards to being an actual publication. The advertisers are real as well, and they too felt the wrath of the crowd, after posters listed the advertisers (mostly local businesses in the Western New England region the magazine served) and their websites on Facebook and Reddit.
One posted this plea on Facebook:
It should be clear by now that social media backlash is not a risk that only large publishing brands such as Marie Claire or The Washington Post face. Any publisher that misbehaves – especially as egregiously as Cooks did – is likely to face a firestorm that could bring down the franchise.
Lessons learned? They’re pretty basic:
- Don’t plagiarize. Always ask for permission, even if you publish in a corner of the world that you think no one outside of your small circle of print subscribers will ever notice. Today, all publishing is potentially global.
- Don’t be arrogant. This applies to your dealings with authors, readers, advertisers, friends, family, pets, etc.
- Don’t be ignorant. Understand Internet copyright laws and fair use guidelines. And never underestimate how quickly something you publish can go viral – especially something you did badly.
- Don’t say anything in an email that you wouldn’t want a million of your closest friends (or enemies) to read. Like, duh.
- Don't hide. The publisher compounded the error by intially remaining silent, then poured gasoline on the fire by attacking the commenters as "hackers." A public mea culpa would have gone a long way to stanching the criticism (though it's probably too late for that now).
- Don’t put your advertisers at risk. If your editorial standards are south of the ethics border, your advertisers at some point will share the stink. And you won’t stay in business for long.