Friday, November 12, 2010

Derp Redux, Plus Beam Removal

So Cooks Source has officially closed up shop, at least temporarily, to deal with the imboglio of a few weeks ago.

Looks like they did so Nov. 4, after their Facebook page got hijacked, after their local advertisers got harassed. Their website is now home only to a rather glib statement that's half apology, half shame-on-you to the people who did the hijacking and harassment.

To their credit, they did apologize to Monica Gaudio, the writer whose piece they used without her permission:
Last month an article, “American as Apple Pie -- Isn’t,” was placed in error in Cooks Source, without the approval of the writer, Monica Gaudio. We sincerely wish to apologize to her for this error, it was an oversight of a small, overworked staff. We have made a donation at her request, to her chosen institution, the Columbia School of Journalism. In addition, a donation to the Western New England Food Bank, is being made in her name. It should be noted that Monica was given a clear credit for using her article within the publication, and has been paid in the way that she has requested to be paid.
Note they don't admit to any systemic abuse or plagiarism, though that was an accusation lobbed at them. I don't know whether it's true or not. But I also don't know whether this article was used "in error," that it was "an oversight of a small, overworked staff." Sorry. Don't buy that. You may have a small staff, and you may be overworked, but that doesn't mean you can't take a few minutes to try to contact the author of an original piece before you decide to not only publish it yourself but also offer a rather stupid explanation for why you did it.

It's true that people upset at what Cooks Source did should not have hijacked the site's Facebook account or started up a bogus Twitter user to further harass the company. And while I'm not exactly sure what these same people might have done to harass the magazine's advertisers, I certainly don't think it's outside morality to contact an advertiser and say you're not pleased with the outfit where their ads appear.

But my wife had the following discussion earlier today: Do we sometimes treat the Internet as public domain? I had to answer that yes we do. Sometimes I'll search the net to find a photo or illustration to go with a blog posting here, and I don't ask permission. I use YouTube clips that no one asked the original copyright owner if they could use them. I can try to shield myself behind the feeling that since I'm not making money on this blog, I can use what I please, but that still doesn't feel right. Cooks Source statement, ironically, makes for good reading on this subject:
This issue has made certain changes here at Cooks Source. Starting with this month, we will now list all sources. Also we now request that all the articles and informational pieces will have been made with written consent of the writers, the book publishers and/or their agents or distributors, chefs and business owners. All submission authors and chefs and cooks will have emailed, and/or signed a release form for this material to Cooks Source and as such will have approved its final inclusion. Email submissions are considered consent, with a verbal/written follow-up. Recipes created in the Cooks Source Kitchen are owned by Cooks Source and as such approval is given for chefs and cooks in our area to use them. Artwork used is created by our staff, or is royalty-free or purchased “clip-art.”

However: Cooks Source can not vouch for all the writers we have used in the past, and in the future can only check to a certain extent. Therefore, we will no longer accept unrequested articles, nor will we work with writers or illustrators unless they can prove they are reputable people, provide their sources, and who, in our estimation, we feel our readers and advertisers can trust and rely on for accuracy and originality. All sources will be listed with the articles, along with the permission, where necessary.
So, dare I make some of the same pronouncements: Use only in-house art and such for this blog, or stuff that I've paid for or at least asked permission to use? And where and how may I apply the following principles:
  • The fair use doctrine?
  • Things that are truly, legally, in the public domain?
  • And what about Creative Commons items?
And what would I do if someone whose stuff I'm using without permission came to me and said, cease and desist? Well, ceasing and desisting, with a sincere apology, would certainly be first and foremost on my mind.

So, expect to see more original illustrations here.

These are issues that anyone on the Internet needs to be aware of, wary of, and ready to react to as necessary. And finding the beam that's in our own eyes while we clamor for the removal of the mote from the other's eye is equally as important.

Still, part of our discussion this morning also went like this:

My wife does a fair amount of scouring the web for Cub Scout stuff. She finds a lot. She uses a lot. She always cites sources and gives credit where credit is due, but she's never asked anyone permission to use what she's using. Should she have to? Isn't the intent of putting stuff on the Internet that it be read and used and observed and enjoyed by others? Do we only cross a line when we get paid when we use someone else's stuff without permission? Current copyright law argues against that notion. Even the use -- outside of the vagaries of the fair use doctrine -- constitutes theft. All the victim has to do is claim harm, not merely that the profiteer profited off the pilfering.

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