Internet Vengeance and Apple Pie

I’ve waited to say much of anything about the Cooks Source fiasco that had the internet’s panties all in a bunch over the past week. I was fully aware of it as it broke and spent hours compulsively watching it unfold in all its rage-fueled beauty.You could almost consider it a bonding moment for bloggers, internet content writers and anyone else with a vested interest in the protection of intellectual property/copyright laws. As engrossing as I found it, I decided to sit back and watch it unfold before jumping in and adding my +1 to the 396,000+/- results on Google.

The basics of the story, for those who have lived under an internet rock for the past week or so, can be found with a quick Google search for “Cooks Source.” Alternatively, my favorite article thus far is found here.

This debacle was an utterly fascinating social event that justified my awe of the power of the written word, and the (terrifying) power of the internet. My sadistic side has been much amused by the Facebook dogpile that had me watching a friend count rise from 700 to 3,500 in a matter of hours. It became a game to click refresh as quick as possible to see how many joined in the seconds, or minutes I spent reading the most recent comments. Then I remember that this is because of one blog post that got reposted, tweeted, emailed, IM’ed and Facebook’ed around the world.

That blows my mind.

Not only did the mob demand justice from Cooks Source, they also demanded action from their advertisers, and like the pissed off nerd netizens we are, we started digging and researching. More pilfered content was found from bigger sources – Food Network, NPR, Weight Watchers, Martha Stewart, Oprah etc. and forwarded to their attention by those who had taken up Gaudio’s banner. It’s likely those copyright lawyers squealed with glee as they reviewed the pages in question.

It’s pretty clear to even an untrained eye that Cooks Source is firmly in the wrong and it’s easy to see why every writer whose work could and does end up on the internet has an opinion about it. Plagiarism and theft of intellectual property is an unconscionable breach in the implicit trust between writers and the publishing world. Writers spend hours, days, weeks, months and even years creating work we’re proud of and we need honest publishers and editors as much as they need us. The thought of having those words stolen and used for profit of another without permission is a sickening thought. It’s no wonder that the “Internet Threw a Righteous Hissyfit” (props to NPR for the Best Blog Title Ever, by the way); Griggs is the boogeyman of our deepest digital nightmares. We watched our dark “what-if’s” play out before us and suddenly the reality struck – this could, and may already have happened, to our own work. Stephen King couldn’t have scared us more thoroughly than Judith Griggs.

But, even though we know there are creeps out there like her, knowing there’s an almost infinite support base out there of peers and sympathizers willing to do stand up to help us defend our work gives us a little bit of reassurance. We may fling our work out into the void to see what happens, but we know the pitchfork-bearing mob is only a re-blog away.

Before we go, let’s just take a quick overview of the lessons demonstrated here so they’re not forgotten. Maybe they’ll serve a budding Judith Griggs out there and turn them from the Dark Side before it’s too late…

1. Do NOT piss off the Internet. Ever. Bad things happen.

2. What is posted to the Internet stays there forever. Or at least until an EMP blast sends us all back into a tech-less dark age. (But that’s still no guarantee…)

3. Anything that can be forwarded or shared, will be. Particularly if you’re a conceited ass.

4. If you make a legitimate mistake due to a lack of knowledge, research the issue and see if you are in the wrong and if you are, ‘fess up with humility, take your punches and make restitution. A simple apology, a little contrition (and maybe a charitable donation of $130) can save you from international humiliation, ceaseless harassment and ridicule, and the destruction of current and future career opportunities.

5. If you are doing something you and the rest of the world can identify as being wrong, don’t be surprised or incensed when thousands of people jump on your ass and ride you like a cheap whore. You deserve it.

6. Arm yourself with knowledge! Research and dissemination is what we do best, so there’s no excuse if we don’t understand our rights and responsibilities, if we don’t proactively seek out ways to protect our work, or if we don’t know what copyright really means. I stumbled across this blog post and think it is a great resource. Go read it for yourself. I know I’ll be digging into even more of the links provided and others to make sure I am more informed. It’s my work, after all. Just because I submitted it somewhere doesn’t mean it’s not still my responsibility.

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