I recently came upon Jessanne Collins' essay about what it was like to be a Demand Media copy editor. As a veteran writer from the "content farm," I can vouch for her description of the experience. I hope she would have found my articles about eyelash mites and birdhouse construction to be relatively easy edits, but I found the "meticulously detailed standards" of the site as well as the extremely focused questions -- in my article about "Camping at the Gulf coast of Alabama" I was reprimanded for giving camping tips not specific enough to camping at the Gulf Coast -- often sabotaged my written eloquence. Furthermore, I was flagged for plagiarism several times despite my best rephrasing efforts and extreme use of Thesaurus.com: How many different ways can you describe how to enable a network range booster? What's a workable synonym for "probate?"
Perhaps the editors at Cook Source magazine asked a similar question when putting together their latest issue, namely, "How many different ways can you describe how to make apple pie the way they did back in medieval times?" Initially, food blogger Monica Gaudio also gave the magazine the benefit of the doubt: After finding out Cook Source had republished -- verbatim -- her 2005 post of a medieval apple pie recipe in their latest issue, Gaudio asked for clarification, compensation [in the form of a $150 donation to Columbia J-School], and a written apology.
Cook Source editor Judith Griggs certainly cleared things up:
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. 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!" [emphasis added]
Ed. note: According to Gizmodo, "The "need of editing" Griggs is referring to involved fixing up all those pesky, true-to-period 16th century English spellings."
This story came out yesterday, and already the wrath of the internet has descended up Cook Source in full Facebook force. Obviously, I'm more than willing to jump onto that pile-on, especially since Cook Source has yet to offer an apology or admit wrongdoing*. So, with my Griggs/Cook Source condemnation out of the way, where is the thin line between sharing and stealing? This is still a murky area for digital.
Of note in this debate is the Facebook vs. Lamebook back and forth. As chronicled by Adrien Chen, the latter is a compendium of Facebook hilarity/stupidity/glory (most are NSFW, but I've posted a couple below) that, after receiving a cease and desist from the great FB, filed a "preemptive lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, claiming the site is obviously a parody, and they're not copying Facebook in order to literally launch a lame version of Facebook."
Then, of course, there's the whole music what-some-call-sharing-others-call-piracy thing. In that vein, earlier this week, Jammie Thomas was slammed with a $1.5 million fine for illegally downloading music.
It gets even more confusing now because companies -- and some musicians -- are encouraging sharing, and even building entire campaigns around the expectation that their stuff will get passed on. What happens with the likes of Cook Source and Lamebook will continue to define the parameters of what belongs to whom in a digital environment. Personally, I'm sticking to the motto my grandmother always said: "sharing is caring...unless you copy someone's recipe, diss said recipe, and are generally a jerk about the entire thing." Words to live by.
*Not necessarily historically accurate