5 Lessons About Stealing Recipes and Web Justice

Nov 062010
 

Blogger Monica Guadio

If you were under a rock the last few days, you missed the excitement about Cooks Source, an online and print magazine busted for stealing recipes and taken down by bloggers, online news stories, Twitterers, Facebook posters, and hackers.

It started when blogger Monica Gaudio learned that a piece on apples she wrote for Gode Cokery appeared in Cooks Source magazine with her byline. She contacted editor Judith Griggs in a pointed email. Here’s where the editor made a fatal mistake (aside from stealing the recipe in the first place): She wrote an arrogant, insulting, condescending reply (scroll down to read it).

Lesson No. 1: If you’re a jerk editor who’s going to say something you’ll regret, do it over the phone.

Gaudio, outraged, told the story on her blog November 3, and printed Griggs’ outrageous comments, which include such gems as “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!”

Lesson No. 2: If you’re already in trouble for stealing a blogger’s work (and stupid enough to include her byline), do not compound it by pissing her off.

Gaudio’s friend Nick Mamatas picked up the story, and then it spread like a lit joint at a high school dance party. I got emails and tweets from people who had seen the story in Boing Boing, the UK Guardian, National Public Radio and many other online publications and blogs. On Friday I leapt onto Twitter and did some spreading of my own, which led Shauna James Ahern to discover the magazine had stolen her recipe for a gluten-free oatmeal cookie.

Lesson No. 3. Controversy and outrage creates an instant online response.

Since then, even more posts and news stories have appeared, and the mob is getting crazy. Cook’s Source said someone hacked its website. No content survives. To get a sense of what was there, see this post from Edward Champion, which includes a comment from Elise Bauer, who said Cook’s Source had stolen her recipes too. Later, someone made a Google Doc spreadsheet of some of the stolen recipes, including those from the Food Network.

Cooks Source said its Facebook page was hacked. There are now two Twitter feeds on the subject: #CooksSource and #buthonestlymonica.

Some of this is funny, but some of it is mean-spirited and out of control. Someone on Cooks Source’s Facebook page was offering money for naked photos of Griggs. Strangers are making random comments such as, “Cooks Source hates it when Ricky Bobby prays to the tiny Jesus.” (What?) In the Discussion tab, someone named all the people who worked for the publication, including the illustrator and the paste-up person. Someone else bragged about harassing its advertisers and printed a complete list.

Lesson 4: Online, total strangers get into the action and form a mob mentality. It’s scary.

And finally, the main lesson, which should have been obvious all along:

Lesson 5: Stealing recipes is wrong, and the power of the Internet is awesome.

If Griggs didn’t get that before, she certainly gets it now. Way more than necessary.

For more on this subject, see

Update: Cooks Source has issued a statement

Thanks to Perre Coleman Magnus, Stephanie Stiavetti, Laura Taxel, Jennifer Cockerall-King, Elyse Friedman, and David Leite for sending me emails asking some version of “Have you seen this?!”

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  62 Responses to “5 Lessons About Stealing Recipes and Web Justice”

  1. The whole story is just mind-boggling. I thought of you instantly when this came about… Dianne Jacob must do something… write a post!

    It really makes you think twice before you make a recipe and post it on your blog without much adaptation, that’s for sure. But for a professional publication to do something like this, and then to find out that it’s standard practice for them? I really hope this puts them out of business.

    • Thanks. You and several people had the same thought. I don’t usually post on Saturday nights, believe me!

      I don’t think Cooks Source was ever a professional publication. And they may end up out of business, I agree.

  2. Thanks for this synopsis of what happened – the link to Elise’s article is very helpful too.

    • You’re welcome, Lara. There are lots of articles out there, but this subject has special resonance for food writers, particularly recipe developers.

  3. Nice synopsis. What Cook’s Source did was unconscionable and then to compound it with such a rude and arrogant reply is unforgivable. However, the internet mob mentality scares me and I’ve seen it get out of hand more than once. There needs to be some balance out there.
    On another note, I see the new version of your book is finally on Kindle! Yay!

    • Thanks Kristina. I have experienced the mob mentality on my own blog, so I appreciate what you’re saying.

      Not only is Will Write for Food available on Kindle, it is also on the B&N Reader and all kinds of other e-book formats.

  4. Thanks for this interesting summary. I visited the Cook Source Facebook page due to a comment on Twitter and was totally confused and bemused. I’ve found stuff lifted from my site without a link back or credit on several sites. It seems to be a worrying trend. While I don’t condone the out of control mob mentality, it is heartening to see this as an example that plagiarism doesn’t pay and that even bloggers (like me) with a very small audience in the scheme of things have some protection or right of reply. The guidelines for recipe stealing are a bit vague because which combination of ingredients is ever truly original, however I think this is a great guide from David Lebovitz http://foodblogalliance.com/2009/04/recipe-attribution.php

  5. Yes, it’s difficult to determine sometimes where one recipe ends and another begins. This is what gives most (ethical) bloggers headaches. But this is far beyond simply “borrowing” a list of ingredients, or even a method (neither of which I agree with).

    Cooks Source, plain and simple, stole recipes, writings, and photographs from wherever they could. It was a publication sourced through plagiarism, and they deserved whatever wrath the internets chose to inflict upon them. I only wish Anonymous might’ve turned their attention towards them. THAT would have been appropriately amusing to see.

    • I don’t think they deserve that much wrath. People on the net go way overboard. The hijacked Facebook page is substance free now, just silly.

  6. It is vital to note that Judith Griggs responded to all the brouhaha with yet another level of disassociation to the incident in which she acted completely in the wrong.

    Please note—a second response by “Editor Scissorhands” Griggs, to the fury.
    http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-cooks-source-2010-11

    Bullies? Yeah, well, it’s hard to resist snarking in the face of that lunacy. But I am considering that it is, indeed, lunacy. Maybe ease back on the bullying and proceed with legal means, because Ms. Griggs once again used “my bad” and “egg on my face” by way of completely denying any knowledge of the law, or her egregious response to Monica.

    Me think JG not brightest candle in box.

    • There’s speculation that the response has been fake, which is why I chose not to include it, Tana.

  7. What worries me is that it took this incident for other writers to discover that their content had been lifted as well. How much original work is really being copied out there? Google isn’t going to catch every infringement and notify you with a Google alert. It took some careful eyes to find the first act and more digging to find the others.

    Can you perhaps do a primer or review or comparison of the various copyright theft protection services out there?

    On another note, I find it sad that people went too far in attacking the thief personally, in what amounts to cyber-bullying. Her name is mud and she’s probably out of a job. Time to turn the mob and direct it at doing something more useful.

    • When I first read about this, I must admit I was drawn in and mesmerized by the comments on the Facebook page. Her name mud? Out of a job? Um, and so? As far as I can tell, virtually everything in that “magazine” was stolen and she deserves every bit of blame being heaved upon her. In fact, I’d hope that someone with more clout, money or public presence than I sues her sorry ass.

      • Don’t get me wrong; I think the editor definitely should lose her job for this kind of blatant and unrepentant stealing that, apparently, has gone on for years.

        The Internet mob has got its pound of flesh. That magazine is probably going out of business. What I’d like to see now is the mob being turned to doing good in light of the fallout from this. One of the discussion threads on the Cooks Source Facebook page is tilting toward setting up a donation page for a local foodbank, asking if the donations can be earmarked for buying pastries from one of Cooks Source’s former advertisers. I think it’s a brilliant idea and a better way to use the energy, creativity, and goodwill of all the people stepping up on Monica’s side.

        • Buying pastries from one of Cooks Source’s former advertisers, for a Food Bank? That sounds crazy to me, unless you’re telling me people are boycotting them because they advertised. That is warped.

          • It goes like this:

            1) advertiser pays magazine to place ad, expects exposure and revenue
            2) advertiser discovers magazine is acting illegally, pulls support
            3) advertiser is out the ad fees paid, plus whatever other revenue they hoped to gain from exposure
            4) people worldwide want to help the advertiser recoup the losses, but don’t want to travel to Massachusetts to buy a cupcake
            5) people send donation to local Mass. food bank, asking that the food bank buy the cupcakes from the advertiser and distribute it to needy folks

          • Okay, I guess. Advertisers aren’t out whatever revenue they gained from advertising. It’s very difficult to make a direct connection.

            And, having been on the board of a food bank for 9 years, I bet they’d rather have fresh produce.

      • I don’t know what will happen to Judith Griggs, but I’m fairly certain she will go into a traumatic state for a while. I don’t think she deserved all of what has happened.

        • I suppose Ms. Griggs’ trauma could be considered greater than Monica’s; however, from what I can tell, virtually all of the magazine was plagiarized. And this isn’t the first time they’ve been called out on it. I’m sorry, I just don’t feel sympathy for mindful criminals. She could have easily rectified the situation long ago. I do like the idea of helping the advertisers recoup some of the lost revenue and fees, though.

          • It’s not a competition between who was victimized more, Griggs or people who’ve had their recipes stolen, but yeah, it’s hard to feel sorry for Griggs. Especially that comment that the writer should pay her for the privilege of her edits.

            Re lost revenue, depends if the magazine keeps going, refunds the money, etc.

  8. “On Friday I leapt onto Twitter and did some spreading of my own…”
    “Online, total strangers get into the action and form a mob mentality. It’s scary.”

    There’s nothing like feeding the frenzy, is there…? Especially when you’re not a part of it and just want to be in on the action… Oh wait, that’s the mob mentality you warn people of!

  9. I didn’t know about this incident. It’s terrible. Thanks for the synopsis Diane and thanks for the link to Elise’s article as well. It is extremely helpful and informative.
    The power of the internet is indeed awesome!
    Magda

  10. I guess I’ve been “under a rock” as this is all new to me. Glad you posted about it, Diane. But I must say, more interesting to me is your clever sentence crafting. I just love your writing. Especially your brilliant simile, “then it spread like a lit joint at a high school dance party.” My gosh, that is wonderful.

    This whole realm of blogging is interesting (intellectual stealing, copyright infringement, etc.), but as you suggest, also a bit creepy.

    Great piece. I’ll go check out all your resource links. Thanks for keeping those of us “under a rock” informed and aware (and entertained).

    Melissa

    • You are funny, Melissa. The last response I thought I would get about this piece was that it was well written. Thanks.

      And no problem about being under a rock. Happy to provide this service for when you come out.

  11. I just peeked out from under a rock to read your article. I am definately saving the link to the Copyright articles as well as Google Alert. Excuse me while I grab them both and scuttle back under my rock. :)

  12. I was wondering when you were going to weigh in on this. I find the whole thing appalling! At first, I almost felt a little sorry for Griggs, thinking how desperate she must have been to keep her magazine afloat. But, her ignorance and utter gall soon turned my sympathy into outrage! I don’t advocate personal threats and bullying, but do hope that she is put out of business.

    • Thanks Susan. It was fun to finally weigh in. I have to agree that her response was unbelievably unprofessional, not to mention criminal.

  13. I’ve been a writer for a long time and have a published book to my credit. But I’m brand new when it comes to writing and blogging about food. Guess this means I need to start including some copyright language at the bottom of my recipes or the bottom of each page. Also need to get my blog under my own domain – which is already in process.

    I’m assuming it’s okay to use a recipe, or say I was inspired by another recipe – if I give credit where due and a link back to where I got it from. Yes or no?

  14. You can have where to buy viagra tablets your morning.

    There are clear guidelines for IACP members in using other people’s recipes, well-researched and important. Ingredients may not be copyrighted, nor the order in which they are used. If sequential sentences are identical, depending of the type of recipe (i.e., bechamel sauce vs. Sliders with Irky Liquor) and how many, it is theft. IACP members agree to ethics, including not attributing any one elses’s work as their own (see IACP site for code because I tend to paraphrase). It is hard to know if every recipe you use is your own. Sometimes you use them so many years you don’t know the source. But headnotes (the paragraph at the top) should always tell the source. I.e., Someone gave me this recipe cut from a newspaper in the 90’s and I wish I knew who wrote it. I’ve adaped it and added more salt and cheese. If the source is known, it should be, “This was adapted from Cook’s magazines wonderful recipe on turtle pie. I subsituted possum.” But the wording of the paragraphs must and should be individual — one’s own, or the copywrite owner contacted and a fee paid (usually minimal) unless in the case of reviews or newspapers articles, full credit including publication or link is given as a way of promoting the person/book.

  15. Have been seeing all that’s going on regarding this. Monica was lucky to discover her matter was “stolen” because it was online. Matter on the web, that is used without permission and reproduced in print is more difficult to discover.
    I was also told that my food photograph was used because “it was on the web” when I asked for an explanation. This response was from the editor of a well known magazine that printed my image without my permission! I’m still fighting it out.

    • Perhaps this latest round has struck fear into this editor’s heart, that she or he might be discovered in the same way. Write again and reference this post. Good luck, Aparna.

      • Thank you, Diane. I shall definitely be writing about my experience on my blog soon because we need to stand up against plagiarism so “thieves” think before they resort to such behaviour, and then defend it as well!!!.

  16. Dianne-
    Thank you for posting about this. Your blog is, in my opinion, the best place for learning about current events as they impact us as food bloggers and bloggers in general. I first learned of this incident on Twitter and started investigating the issue. I was dismayed to see the extent and speed of involvement by bloggers, authors, and casual readers. I was puzzled at first at the rabid backlash by some who thought it was of no concern to anyone other than Monica. I was peeved to think that my thoughts and feelings about theft of personal/intellectual property were irrelevant simply because it was not my work that was stolen.
    I am concerned that food bloggers and bloggers at large are now being described as bullies and mob-mentality individuals. If anyone were to read all the entires on Twitter and Facebook I think they would find that many of those who are the most vocal are in no way connected to the subject or the persons involved. There are those who just want to be involved in any issue so they can blow their own horns. That, however, should not detract from the validity of those who voice their concern and disagreement in an orderly, polite, and sensible manner. This part of this episode is the most disappointing to me. That readers cannot or will not see the difference between justified disagreement and outrage by those in the field and the screamings, rantings, and threats of those who are out for the “thrill of the kill” and will do anything for attention is a sad statement about those readers.
    I think that this will bring a heightened awareness of the copyright and trademark laws and provisions. It might make more of us cautious when we write, adapt, copy, review, or suggest ideas on our blogs or in our printed works. And hopefully, it will not diminish our inclination to uphold the rights of others in a positive and non-threatening way. I am outraged at what Griggs did and I should not be discouraged in letting anyone and everyone know that I believe she is in the wrong. That does mean I need to use a hatchet where a paring knife might be more appropriate. Perhaps the sharp instrument is a bad example, but you know what I mean. I am, as usual, just thinking out loud again….

    • Good analogy, Karen, about using a hatchet where a paring knife will do. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s food writers who are making all those crazy comments on Facebook and Twitter. Just random people online, caving to mob mentality.

  17. I read Monica’s blog pretty early on in the day (before the mob got out of control) and I admit that what REALLY pissed me off was Judith’s patronizing and arrogant response, waaaaay more than the lifting of the article, which was accredited and could have just been chalked up to ignorance of how the internet works. In essence, it’s “forgivable” if someone claims ignorance and makes amends for their errors, and bends over backward to apologize. However, the sense of entitlement of this woman was utterly and truly appalling. I admit to letting it get to me more than it should, seeing as it wasn’t my business. I retweeted the link to Monica’s article on Twitter, and then later the link to Boing Boing.

    Later in the day, however, when I popped over to the Cook’s Source Facebook page, I was reminded of how many sick and twisted individuals there are on the Web. It’s truly appalling that people would go out of their way to harass this woman, her supporters, and other totally innocent individuals who happened to have the misfortune of doing business with her. I am shocked and saddened. But I see this a lot in comments on news articles, YouTube videos, and other such public sites where people can respond anonymously. I am amazed each time I see such drivel.

    So, while I was angry and upset over the gall of someone stealing someone’s work and then acting all ‘entitled’ to it, I was more upset over the mob mentality that ensued. NPR was right to call the reaction a “righteous hissyfit”. It was awful and I’m almost sorry to have participated in it.

    Great recap, Dianne!

    • Thanks Jackie. I’m with you. It’s not like I feel sorry for Griggs, but it’s hard to not be appalled by the vitriol.

  18. ” I got emails and tweets from people who had seen the story in Boingo Boingo,”

    …. Boing Boing.

    It’s there in the URL. Boing Boing.

    Don’t suppose you could edit your post to fix that, could ya?

  19. Thanks Dianne, for posting this! Your synopsis is really well informed, and having all the appropriate links in one place is really helpful. The link to Monica Guadio’s page really helped too, with my specific quandry. She actually included a bibliography with the recipes / sources she used, and I think I will too when I start posting this series I am currently working on.

    • You are most welcome, Susan. I’m not sure who started that list of links. Someone else may have created it to help build a case.

  20. Finding my work used by someone else without permission or attribution precedes the internet. I have never retaliated and I agree some of the offended went too far. But I empathize with those who have seen their work appropriated by unethical people.

    • Agreed that this problem started way before the Internet, and there is never any excuse for unethical behavior.

  21. After thinking for several days about what to do about the problem of IP theft, I went and experimented with some anti-plagiarism software. Some very good tools are available, & they are free and easy to use. I’ve decided to run these programs a bit each week and in time will have checked for uses of everything on my site. I suggest that if everybody else commenting here would do the same, we would make it much harder for “borrowers” to go undetected, and maybe they’d be less tempted to steal at all. I’ve provided descriptions and the links to the plagiarism checkers on my site, and hope you will use them, too. Your info here is useful, Dianne, so I’ve provided a link back to your site as well.

  22. Yes, this was appalling but wasn’t the response, also? I am surprised that no one’s mentioned the ten cents per word rate that was suggested compensation for the article. Especially when you factor in the time it costs to police the internets for our plagiarized work, how in the world could we keep the lights on and be paid at such a meager rate?

  23. I found last week that I too was victimized by this shady publication. My question is, what to do about it? I hope those with deeper resources–namely Martha Stewart and Paula Deen will take some legal action. I’d love to join a class action suit against this common thief.

  24. I guess I was under the rock the last few days because this is the first I’ve heard of the story. Came across it on Nancy Baggett’s blog where she posted several plagiarism checkers (as she noted above).

    To me, it’s almost more egregious that they used the stolen material in print. At least on the web, they could have gone back and added proper attribution or linked to the blogger’s site or found some way to compensate — or remove the material altogether. But once it’s in print, that’s a done deal.

    Agree that the Facebook postings are over the top, but I feel no sympathy for this woman. She should lose her job, not only because of her unethical business dealings, but primarily because of the complete lack of humility and remorse and professionalism when dealing with someone. That is what is most appalling to me.

  25. I am going back t read more about this.

    Just wanted to tell you that it was tryly a pleasure meeting you this past weekend.

  26. Ah, now there’s a more elegant way to use others peoples’ work to promote one’s own web site, as we have seen before. Ask them if you could use their material in exchange for a… link?

  27. I wonder what you think of the whole Amazon fiasco, then. I was also amazed by the power (and web mob).

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