It was the e-mail heard ‘round the world. When the editor of Cooks Source Magazine responded to a concerned author’s e-mail about alleged copyright infringement with the suggestion that everything on the Internet was the “public domain,” it made headlines throughout the world and became an instant meme. Monica Gaudio, who in an interview with one of our internet lawyers describes herself as “an amateur medieval enthusiast, nerd, and foodie,” had originally published an article on the website Godecookery.com, entitled, “A Tale of Two Tarts,” about the history of apple pie. That was in 2005. However, last month, one of Gaudio’s friends contacted her to ask how Gaudio had gotten published in Cooks Source Magazine, a monthly New England food publication. Gaudio was equally intrigued, since she not only had never gave permission for the article to be published but had never even heard of the magazine before.
It was when the perplexed author contacted the managing editor of the magazine, Judith Griggs that she found out what had happened: The magazine had simply decided to use Gaudio’s article without asking permission after it found it online. Shortly after contacting Griggs, Gaudio received a phone call from the editor was told to use a Gmail account to talk to her. Apparently, someone forgot that e-mails are a form of writing that can be used in Court.
After a few e-mails back and forth, Gaudio was asked what she wanted from the magazine, to which she replied she simply wanted a public apology on Facebook (Cooks Source has a Facebook page), an apology in the magazine itself, and a donation of $130 for the Columbia School of Journalism. Although she requested a donation to the Columbia School of Journalism, she said, “I am not a journalism student—I picked the CSJ because they were the first reputable journalism school that came up when I did a Google search for “Journalism School Donation.” I wanted to find a school that allowed for online donations, to make things easier. “ What would happen next would set off a worldwide reaction and furor against Cooks Source Magazine and its editorial body.
In response to Gaudio’s simple requests, the editor of Cooks replied with the now infamous e-mail “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!”. Griggs went on to criticize Gaudio’s work, despite the fact that she ultimately thought it good enough to publish in her widely distributed magazine, by telling Gaudio that, “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.”
The final blow to any perception the public may have had of the magazine’s ethical standards came when Griggs told Gaudio that Gaudio had taken the time to edit the article, and therefore “you should compensate me!”. That’s right, not only had the magazine “lifted” the article but they now suggested that Gaudio should pay them. This behavior is right on par with someone stealing your car, driving it around town and adding a few new parts and a paint job, and then coming back to you and saying “hey, I know I took your car without your permission but I added some sweet flames and rims to it….you should pay me for it”. This laughable proposition has opened the Magazine and its editors up to a slew of negative comments and mockery, creating internet memes (“But Honestly Monica…”) and forums dedicated to lashing out against the idea that the internet is a “public domain”. Copyright laws are no joke, and must be taken seriously or else the ramifications can be serious. In fact, when we asked whether Gaudio is planning on pursuing civil litigation Gaudio responded, “I hate to be cagey but — we’ll see.”. It should be noted, however, that Gaudio’s LiveJournal states that, “I have found a very nice attorney who is working with me.”
No matter what happens to Gaudio or Cook’s magazine, one thing is for certain the Internet is not a “public domain”. Despite what has happened Gaudio is still in good spirits and hopefully what has happened will serve as a lesson on copyrights. “Perhaps this will become a warning for others,” said Gaudio. “Don’t do it. You may get caught and the Internet will be mad at you.”