The Internet is Ablaze

When we first started NRP, the idea was for The Naked Truth to be the voice of our editors and authors.  The posts would dovetail to what was going up on our site, what our authors might be doing, etc.  But there are times when events simply require comment.  This is one of those times.

For those of you who were, like me, hiding under a rock or buried under deadlines yesterday, you might not have heard about the Cooks Source kerfluffle — I can’t say what I really think.  We try to keep the blog at a PG rating.

I’m not going to go into all the facts.  You can find them at the wronged author’s blog.  Another LJ post that deals with what happened is here.  John Scalzi sums it all up superbly with this title to his blog entry:  The Stupidest Thing an Editor With Three Decades of Experience Has Said About the Web Today”.

There are two things the editor in question did that have set the internet ablaze.  The first was to take an author’s work, “edit” it — and I use this term loosely — and then publish it without getting the author’s permission.  Going hand in hand with this was the editor’s non-apology apology when the author contacted her.  In this so-called apology she basically said the author should thank her for improving the article.  That’s bad enough, especially since the only remuneration the author wanted was a $130 donation to a college.

Worse was this assertion by the editor:  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!

This is where my head exploded.  It is also, to judge by the number of blog entries, media articles and op-ed pieces and posts on the magazine’s facebook page, where everyone else’s heads exploded as well.  You simply do NOT “lift” work and publish it without permission.  Even if permission is granted on the site you are taking the work from, it’s good form to email the author to confirm.  It’s also smart to do so because they you have the permission in case there are questions later.

But it goes further than that.  “The Internet IS NOT the public domain. There are both uncopyrighted and copyrighted materials available. Assume a work is copyrighted.”  Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom, on the Internet, and the World Wide Web.  This is an excellent article about copyright and I highly recommend everyone take a look.

I’m not going to say this is an isolated incident.  It’s not.  But this is one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time.  Not because this on-line magazine basically stole an author’s work.  Not at all.  It is one of the worst because of how the editor acted.  This would have all been dealt with quickly and with little fall-out for the magazine and their advertisers if the editor had simply made a heartfelt apology and quickly donated the requested $130 to the college the author recommended.  Instead, this one editor has put a bad taste in the mouths of so many people and her actions have splashed back onto the magazine’s advertisers who had nothing to do with what happened.

There are lessons to be learned from this debacle.  The first, if you are posting someone else’s work, get their permission first.  Be sure to credit them, something Cooks did.  Don’t post without the author’s permission, unless you have contract in hand that gives you permission to post the article.  Most of all, as an editor, don’t be a butthead!

But there are lessons for the author as well.  The first is to set Google Alerts to your name/pen name and article title.  The second is not to panic.  Just because this particular editor acted this way, it doesn’t mean there is an epidemic of it.  Be vigilant and keep writing.  Most of all, don’t let this one incident prevent you from posting.  Don’t let the bad guys win.



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4 responses to “The Internet is Ablaze

  1. Stephen J. Simmons

    Sanctified sewage, Batman! Let’s see … how would my CO have reacted if I’d screwed up operating the nuclear reactor on the submarine and tried to excuse it with, “Well what do you expect? I was probably pretty tired when that happened …”

    I’m thinking the body parts he would have kicked probably wouldn’t have landed yet …and I’ve been retired for six years.

    This magazine may be in for a rough patch. And this isn’t exactly a “fprgiving” business environment …

  2. Stephen, exactly. While the very wrong interpretation of copyright amazes me, it’s the total lack of remorse in the editor’s so-called apology that absolutely boggles the mind. The ones I really feel for are the advertisers who had no control over what happened and who were, to judge from some of the comments on fb, inundated with complaints and demands from people who read about what happened. I remember one advertiser off the top of my head who pulled her business from the magazine in response. And yes, the magazine is in for a rough patch, especially if the allegations are true that others who have had their “public domain” work “lifted” by this editor — NPR, Martha Stewart and Disney, among others. Can you see the lawsuit on the horizon?

  3. Pam Uphoff

    And there’s a different side to “You don’t own your writing” as well.

    A whole agency writing “collaberations” with the Name author getting all the credit, owning the copyright, and apparently not doing much, if any, of the writing.

    • True, but here they know — or should know if they’ve read the contract or had an attorney go over it — that that’s what is going to happen.

      Edited: Took out part of my earlier response. It was pre-coffee. For my thoughts on this contract and it really is cruel asking me to read contracts this early on a Saturday, check out the latest post to the blog.

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