A Tale of Copyright Infringement

Eighteen days ago, I tweeted this:

And I received, generally, the same response: astonishment, disappointment, outrage, and advice to see legal action.

The following day, after a phone call to the local newspaper, I posted this to Facebook:

And today this happened: A fellow blogger discovered her post in Cooks Source magazine (which, apparently, can’t currently handle the traffic it’s generated because the site will not load). I feel your pain, Monica Gaudio. But her story doesn’t end there. She contacted the magazine about the copyright infringement, asked for a public apology, and requested that compensation of $130 be donated to the Columbia School of Journalism. Here is the response she received:

“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!”

Excuse me? What? The Web is absolutely NOT public domain. But it seems as though magazines and newspapers think otherwise. I was going to wait to tell my story until the issue was completely resolved, but I can’t help but share it now, in light of today’s events.

On our first anniversary we dined at LIFeSTYLE Trattoria in Bedford. And, of course, I blogged about the blueberry risotto, the tiramisu, and our gracious hosts. Two months later, we returned for a cooking demonstration in the same shop. It was wonderful to see the Italian shop owner again, and to meet his wife this time, too. And they were both very appreciative of the article I wrote about LIFeSTYLE — the article for the local newspaper. Problem is I didn’t write an article for the local newspaper.

I asked if he had a copy, and he retrieved one from their second floor apartment. He laid it in front of me, and my eyes immediately fell upon a photo of me and Nick. Followed by at least four other photos from my post. And, word-for-word, the story of our first anniversary dinner. But wait. There’s more.

Not only was I not contacted before this was published, but there was also no byline or photo credits or mention of our names or our blog. It took everything in me to stay composed during the remainder of that cooking demo. But when we returned to the privacy of our own car, I let it fly.

First I was furious; then I felt violated. I just couldn’t believe a newspaper would steal my words and my photos and, really, my personality. Needless to say, I was awake most of the night plotting my response.

The next afternoon I called the paper and asked to speak to the editor. After I said who I was and why I was calling, the line fell silent. But soon the conversation got interesting.

I asked how she found my article, and she said it was given to her by the shop owner. Given, I asked, as in he copied and pasted it into a document and sent it to you to print in your paper? No, she said. So you copied and pasted it and published it? Yeah, I thought so. She was very defensive and surprisingly unapologetic. Eventually she admitted that she doesn’t even work in the news department; she works in the advertising department. Well then I’m going to have to speak to the publisher, I said. And I’ll wait on the line.

A few minutes passed before the publisher picked up. He immediately said he’d like to remedy the situation by reprinting the article in its entirety with proper accreditation and compensation. I never did receive a formal apology or admittance of the major mistake. In fact, he barely gave me the opportunity to speak; he obviously knew the potential consequences. But that was fine. I just wanted credit where it was due. Although, admittedly, an “I’m sorry” would have been nice.

That night I emailed the article to him with corrections — because it was originally intended for my blog, not a general newspaper audience. I asked that he confirm receipt, let me know when it would run, and mail a copy to me.

One week passed with no response. I called and was connected to his voicemail. Another week passed with no response. So I left another voicemail. In the third voicemail, I said that if I didn’t hear from him by the following week, I would assume he had changed his mind about reprinting the piece and would have to seek alternative action.

He called the following day, said he’s been out of town, and told me the article ran on October 27th. He said he would mail a copy of the article to me, along with my check.

The end.

But it’s not the end. I have to wonder, after today’s revelation, how many other bloggers are in our boat? We research our writing, consider and craft our words, and credit our sources — just like every good journalist. Our time and our talent is not free for you to steal. I don’t care if you’re a low-budget community newspaper or a for-profit special interest magazine, you never ever have the right to take credit for another writer’s work.

Honestly, most of us would likely be thrilled to see our name in print — I know I would. Just please have the common courtesy to get our permission first.

So now I ask you, my fellow bloggers: What would you do if your words were stolen? And if you’re in the business of print, what are you going to do to regain our trust and the trust of your readers?

And for those of you interested in the social media response to copyright infringement, just take a look at the debauchery going down on Twitter and Facebook. You can go here for a reaction from a colleague, and you can also find the story on The Washington Post and The Guardian. And thanks to Smart Bitches, you can now add a new verb to your repertoire. I guarantee the commentary will grow exponentially by morning.

16 thoughts on “A Tale of Copyright Infringement

  1. Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit! Absolutely unbelievable, and I truly hope you get your pound of flesh, whatever that might be. I have told you how much I enjoy your writing, and the photos are never short of spectacular, so to have them co-opted in that fashion is truly astounding and disappointing, and diminishes your rightful place in the journalistic pecking order.

    I hope that, once the dust has settled, you’ll share with us the name of the offending publication, because they need to be pilloried in public for this egregious journalistic infraction (and inquiring minds want to know!). As someone who works for a national publication, I can assure you that there are those who would never consider such an action as appropriate under any circumstances.

    Did ya get the check yet???

  2. That is so ridiculously appalling. I cannot believe that any publication would stoop so low as just to blatantly steal. AND to not apologize?!? Wow.

  3. Emily,

    The first thing to know about copyright law is that copyright “attaches” as soon as the creator of the work puts that work in a “fixed or tangible” form and is viewed by others. In other words, copyright attaches the moment you post any writing or images to your blog (see http://www.netatty.com/copyright.html).

    In the future, you should feel no hesitation to immediately state to such a publisher that they have indeed violated copyright law and that you will seek alternative measures if they do not comply with your request immediately. Don’t give them the chance to talk. Tell them they’re in violation; tell them what you want; hang up.

    No need to listen to their incorrect drivel.

    But on the bright side, I’m glad to see the Culinary Couple is still blogging and prospering!

  4. WOW! I cannot believe the response that one newspaper had. That is just ridiculous. Did your friend seek legal action?

    As for yours, I’m glad they tried to remedy the situation. My question is how do you ensure that you are up to all the legal standards for copyrighting your material and how do you find out that your blog was stolen (aside from chance in these cases)?

  5. Wow, this is ridiculous. Blatant theft, then no apology, and (in the case of your blogger friend) some insults thrown in to boot! Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention, so we can all be more vigilant in protecting our work, and the work of our fellow bloggers.

  6. It is so unconscionable that this would even happen! I learned about your story when you tweeted about it and, more recently, Monica’s and what is even more absurd that this happening in the first place are the reactions by those at faults. Do these ‘publishers’ have no ethics?! As bloggers, we’re protected by the DMCA but it is almost impossible to police content. It’s fortunate that you found out and, hopefully, it is being resolved to your satisfaction.

  7. wow!!! unreal. Thank you for sharing – I really enjoy reading your blog and appreciate you keeping us in the loop! I’d never considered that a newspaper might do a blog search and a quick ‘copy and paste’ to meet a deadline or cover-up their own ‘lack of muse’, but goodness – apparently it’s an epidemic.

    Apologies all around -it’s sad you had to deal with this. However, I think you handled yourself exceptionally well! I hope other blog writers in similar situations will get their due as well.


  8. This would absolutely make me sick. I am so glad that you (seems by coincidence?) discovered the use of your work and were able to take action. Makes me wonder how much this happens and is not discovered?

  9. That is insane! Lots of bloggers get really worked up about the idea of recipe copyrights, and legally, that is a very precarious issue and it appears there is not much copyright protection there (though if you add in a lot of commentary about the steps for example, that portion may be protected, but generally the list of ingredients and the steps is not). So generally when I hear about a foodie blogger worked up about copyright stuff, I assume they don’t have much of a leg to stand on. But this is insane! I remember reading your anniversary dinner post — clearly material to which a copyright attached. Not even any grey area. Glad the wrong has been righted, though wow, it should not happen!

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