Plagiarism 101: Cooks Source and the Internet response

After a magazine editor calls the Web 'public domain,' Netizens respond the only way they know how: with large doses of irony

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And what comments they left. After the predictable spankings over being such copyright cretins, Cooks Source was then ironically accused of every atrocity known to mankind, including shooting JFK, telling the Nazis where to find Anne Frank, hiding Osama Bin Laden, killing Dumbledore, canceling "Arrested Development," eating the insides out of each Oreo cookie before putting them back in the box, and creating "A Very Brady Christmas." The piling on was impressive, often hilarious, and a little frightening.

As is now the custom, fake Facebook pages began to spring up, alongside bogus Twitter accounts. It soon became impossible to tell the fake Cooks Source/Griggs from the real one. The irony was so thick you could cut it with a broadsword.

That in turn, earned Cooks Source a lot of free-yet-unwelcome publicity on CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, NPR, and, of course, here. The incident now has its own Wikipedia entry.

But the Webosphere was far from done with Griggs or Cooks Source. If the magazine stole this woman's blog post, the reasoning went, surely they've stolen other articles. So in a neat bit of crowdsourcing, someone started a Google Docs spreadsheet to keep track of all the other pieces Cooks Source republished from the "public domain" over the past few years and shared it with the world. The article count is currently at 161, including posts that originally appeared on websites for NPR, WebMD, Food Network, Weight Watchers, and Oprah Magazine.

Yes, they even defied Oprah. No one can help them now. Mockery is one thing; now we're talking lawyers. I'd expect the USPS carrier servicing the magazine's Sunderland, Mass., offices will be getting a hernia from all the cease-and-desist letters he'll be hauling.

Bloggers have apparently also contacted most if not all of the magazine's local advertisers, informing them of the scandal. It will be interesting to see if the publication survives. I seriously doubt it will.

And if not, Cooks Source' staff has no one to blame but themselves. Griggs hit all the wrong notes at once: She's egregiously in error, yet totally arrogant about it. She clearly has no clue about a wide range of topics, including publishing, public domain laws, and Facebook. She touched on a sore spot with a lot of Netizens -- the rampant theft of intellectual property on the Web (at least, when it comes to their own intellectual property). And though she offered up a tepid apology to Gaudio on Facebook, Griggs has yet to publicly acknowledge she's 100 percent mistaken about what she can and can't do with other people's copy.

Also: We'd gone three whole days without a single rumor about an Apple product, so people had a lot of time on their hands.

While this wasn't necessarily much ado about nothing, it was clearly too much ado about too little. Still, as the BP oil spill and other Net memes demonstrate, this is the new Way of the InterWebs: When confronted with gross stupidity or extreme malfeasance, apply large doses of irony. It does nothing to abate the stupidity or bring the malefactors to justice, but it's mighty entertaining.

Has Cooks Source been treated fairly? Post your thoughts below or email me:

This article, "Plagiarism 101: Cooks Source and the Internet response," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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