How to know when you’re reading crap: Cooks Source

There’s not much to add to the whole Cooks Source debacle-phenomenon. But I do have a funny little coda. First, let’s rehash.

In case you have been away from the Interwebs for a few days, here’s the quick version.

  1. Writer Monica Gaudio learned that an article she wrote about the medieval origin of apple pie had been printed with her name on it but without her permission or her knowledge in a free, advertising-supported weekly publication called Cooks Source.
  2. Monica contacted the editor of Cooks Source requesting a published apology for the act of plagiarism and a small donation ($130) to the Columbia School of Journalism.
  3. Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs declined to make amends and instead emailed this gem to Monica:

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!”

photo by Len Rizzi (public domain)

Clearly Ms. Griggs was operating under a poor interpretation of modern copyright laws. From here the story blew up. People like Scifi writer/editor John Scalzi blogged about it and author Neil Gaiman tweeted about it to his 1.5 million Twitter followers. From there, the Internet attacked. Cooks Source’s Facebook page became a flame-war pig pile. Vengeful spirits called the rag’s advertisers ordering them to pull their ads. Folks hammered Cooks Source’s office with angry voicemails. The discussion board on Cooks Source’s Facebook page became a an investigative thread where hundreds of people hunted down the sources of other articles, recipes and images the magazine has stolen over the years. It had ripped off the likes of NPR, Disney, Martha Steward and the Food Network. It’s safe to say that Cooks Source is dead and gone. Judith Griggs probably just hasn’t realized it yet.

Which leads to my tiny contribution! This week my girlfriend was away at a conference in Springfield, Mass. I drove out Friday night to meet up with her and we had dinner in Amherst. Over dinner she asked me if she had missed anything interesting going on in the world while she was in “conference mode.” I thought about the election, about that Quantas jet blowing an engine, and about that whole Randy Moss drama.

But then I realized, Cooks Source’s downfall was the most interesting thing I could think of. So I told her all about it. We had a good laugh over the whole mess. After dinner, as we were walking out of the pub, I noticed a rack of free local publications next to the exit. And what should be sitting in the midst of all those free publications? Why, Cooks Source, of course! “A Publication for Food Lovers of Western New England,” according to the tag line on the front cover of this cheap tabloid-style “magazine,” which is printed on newspaper stock.

I decided to peruse the publication. I found the lifted article that Monica Gaudio had written. As I studied page by page of the magazine, there were signs everywhere that the publisher of this rag was playing fast and loose with copyrights. None of the images in the thing had any sort of credits attached. Photos, images of medieval paintings: these things have sources. A photographer always gets a photo credit. An image of a painting usually includes a credit for a museum or gallery. But in Cooks Source, not a single one has a credit.

Another thing that caught my eye: The magazine doesn’t really have any masthead. No names, no accountability. Who’s the publisher of this ting? Who’s the editor? There’s only an anonymous PO Box and email address (cookssource@gmail.com).

Next, I noticed the table of contents page is very thin on details. It displays the names of all the articles, but not the author’s names. That’s a little fishy to me. And if you flip to the articles (Monica’s included), there’s no information on any of the authors. Just a name. No contact details, no bio. Usually contributing writers get to promote themselves a little in a magazine like this.

All of these details should set off alarm bells to readers and advertisers alike. This magazine has been flouting the copyrights of dozens of individuals and companies for years, and people should have noticed before today. This publication is a piece of trash that has profited through theft for years and someone with a good eye should have noticed it long ago.

Finally, here’s your daily does of irony. The flimsy masthead information in the printed edition starts off with this little gem:

Cooks Source is a monthly publication dedicated to the news and knowledge of foods in Western New England. It is produced by Cooks Source Publications and is copy-right (sic) protected, and may not be reproduced without permission of the publisher.

(Emphasis mine).