The Internet is a big place. People often seem to get confused about what the concept of free domain is, and whether something is yours to grab just because you found it on the Internet.
For example, I've posted pictures of food I've made using Cook's Illustrated recipes. Have I posted the recipes? No. Are they worth sharing? Yes. Why haven't I posted them? See, Cook's Illustrated charges for access to their recipes online. You have to buy a subscription or purchase their magazines to get their recipes. So, I won't repost a recipe of theirs, or any recipe, unless it's already available on the Web or not copyright protected. And simply giving someone credit with a byline isn't enough - if you gank something from someone and reprint it in a revenue-producing product, like a magazine that someone pays for, you have just committed theft.
You would think that if I, without a background in intellectul property law, could figure this out, than someone who actually has editorial experience would know this, wouldn't you?
Alas, that is not the case.
Take, for example, Judith Griggs. Judith is the editor of a magazine called Cook's Source. Have you heard of it? Neither have I. But Judith thought she could steal an article written by someone else - in this case, Monica Gaudio - and print it in her magazine, without permission or paying Gaudio for her work, charge others for buying it, and declare it okay because she credited Gaudio in the byline.
When Gaudio found out, she sent Judith an e-mail asking her what the deal was, and got this in response (from Gawker:
"Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things. 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!"
Wow. Housitonic Home? Connecticut Woman Magazine? How is it I have not read these fine publications?!
Judy, Judy Judy. JUDY. First of all, printing an article that you don't have the rights to isn't a "my bad." It's illegal. And secondly, saying that everything on the Internet is public domain is like saying that because you read it on the Internet, it must be true. So, not only did you steal Gaudio's work, you responded to her request (which, I think, was reasonable) for compensation or a donation to Columbia School of Journalism by telling her her article sucked, but not badly enough for you not to steal it - and then demanding that SHE pay YOU for the time it took to rewrite her article? That takes cojones.
As it turns out, Cook's Source has stolen a lot of other stuff - from Martha Stewart, NPR, and Weight Watchers, among other sources.
Click here to read NPR's article, with a link to the Gawker post. Then, if you're bored, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell Judy what you think of her interpretation of copyright laws.