Holy crap, Cooks Source! What the heck are you thinking?! By now you’ve probably heard that the magazine is in a whole lot of hot water.

Monica Gaudio wrote a piece about the origins of apple pie on a website for medieval recipes. She was alerted by a friend that the piece had run in Cooks Source with her byline (the friend just had the intention of wondering how she got published). This was news to Monica and she contacted the magazine to complain and ask for an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia Journalism School. She received an email from managing editor, Judith Griggs, who acknowledged the re-use, but also lectured her about copyright and fair use.

I can’t do the response justice – this you just have to read verbatim.

“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!”

Now, I’m not a copyright attorney and I don’t know if it’s not illegal to “lift” an article and “put someone else’s name on it,” but I’m pretty sure it’s a big no-no. Nor have I ever been a big-time editor, but I also am pretty sure it’s still copyright infringement, even if you had to rewrite something you stole (in college, this was referred to as plagiarism). I also don’t get how she can lecture someone, whose copy she stole, about providing advice or rewriting poorly written pieces. Remember, she STOLE the piece…so Monica didn’t ask for advice or provide something that was poorly written for the magazine to use.

Regardless of how I feel about this (and I’d be surprised if you didn’t feel the same), the reason I heard about it is because people flocked to the Cooks Source Facebook wall to talk about how ridiculous the magazine is being in its dealings with Monica (some of it is pretty funny). It has exploded and, in fact, some of the “fans” have found other instances where Cooks Source has stolen content.

This is a business leader’s worst nightmare. I hear all the time, “What happens if someone says something negative about us online?” Guess what? It’s going to happen. So the best advice is to be prepared for a social crisis and negative comments. Cooks Source was not prepared, but they commented about 24 hours later. The “apology” was shallow, condescending to its “fans,” and praised the fact that they went from 110 “likes” to more than 1,800 (at the time – it’s now more than 6,000).

This is the kiss of death. People can tell if you’re being insincere, even online. Authenticity, honesty, and transparency are the name of the game, which is something Judith Griggs and the people at Cooks Source haven’t figured out.

If you were advising Griggs and her team, what would you say?

P.S. The best part? Griggs, over the weekend, deleted her personal Facebook page. Ever heard of making things worse?

Thanks to Erik Heels for the awesome drawing on copyrights

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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