One of the greatest taboos in journalism, or any form of writing for that matter, is plagiarism. It has led to huge scandals, such as the eventual firing of Jayson Blair at The New York Times, and has become a matter of great concern at colleges and universities over the past few years as it has become so easy in this digital age of ours for students to do it without a second thought.

What you don’t usually expect to see is a regional cooking magazine engage in such an act, and then try to explain it away by using excuses that show a complete ignorance of copyright law, and then add insult to injury by suggesting the victim should be grateful.

Cooks SourceLate Wednesday night, Monica Gaudio made a post to her LiveJournal account that detailed a situation she was having with a magazine named Cooks Source.  In 2005 Ms. Gaudio made a post to Gode Cookery entitled “A Tale of Two Tarts” that detailed the history of apple tarts in the Middle Ages, an extremely specific subject if there ever was one.

Last week she received a call from a friend congratulating her on the fact that the article had run in a magazine names Cooks Source, a publication she had never heard of.  After verifying the printing of the article, she called and e-mailed the magazine to get the story of what happened, the two parties traded some e-mails with the editors finally asking what she wanted.  She asked them for an apology issued on their Facebook page, a printed apology in the next issue and a $130 donation to be made to the Columbia School of Journalism.

The letter she received from editor Judith Griggs read in part:

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!

After the letter was reprinted on the blog, things went badly for the magazine on its Facebook page, with thousands of people leaving nasty comments, and Twitter received a slew of messages with the hashtag #crookschoice.  AllFacebook has even noted that at least one advertiser has publicly said they will pull its ads from the publication over the incident.

On Thursday afternoon Judith Griggs finally publicly responded to all of the commotion … and only made matters worse:

Hi Folks!

Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry — my bad!

You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…” we used to have 110 “friends,” we now have 1,870… wow!

Best to all, Judith

Ms. Griggs complete lack of understanding that the “friends” now number in the thousands due to people merely joining the page to leave nasty comments seems to allude her.

While the concept that the all of the Internet is considered “public domain” is mind boggling to anyone with even the most basic understanding of it, the legion of people who now know of this minor magazine have done some digging into back issues now and are finding more cases of content theft from major sources such as Food Network, and at least one instance of an image lifted from Real Simple.  It would seem that once the doors were thrown open, all sorts of issues have now popped up that will haunt this magazine for some time to come.

It never ceases to amaze me how badly companies can continue to screw up the handling of debacles in the day and age of social media.  It is insanely easy to spread the word of when one receives bad customer service, or when you feel an injustice has been done to you by a magazine.

You have to wonder how many times in the past two days someone has muttered, “We should have just paid the $130 …”