Internet Mob Punishes Plagiarizers, Shuts Down Magazine

Or so it seems--there's all the usual Internet confusion about facts in this case

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Freelancer Monica Gaudio recently found an old article and recipes of hers republished without permission in a small magazine called Cooks Source. She contacted the magazine demanding an apology and a donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. Instead, editor Judith Griggs emailed her a now-famous response, reproduced in part below:

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!

She also suggested Gaudio should really pay her for having modified the piece, which was "in very bad need of editing." Gaudio then posted the email online, it went viral, Cooks Source got buried in criticism, and, according to Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams, "when Facebookers combed the online pages of the magazine, they found dozens of examples of articles and photos, lifted from Weight Watchers, Food Network, Martha Stewart, Sunset and NPR among others." Despite some debate about fake Facebook accounts and the like, the consensus appears to be that Griggs's latest statement on Cooks Source, in which she informs readers that the magazine is likely to shut down, is genuine. Has justice been done? Most bloggers were squarely on the plagiarized Gaudio's side, and few find Griggs's latest note a convincing mea culpa. But some are also concerned about just how quickly and ferociously the Internet mob attacked.

  • Easy Fix: Don't Plagiarize  "Fair use is sometimes tricky," agrees Moe Lane at Red State, "but respecting copyright generally means that you don’t have to worry so much about raising the ire of the entire online world."
  • I'm Torn but I'm Not  "I am ... always a little wary of  pure mob justice," admits TechDirt's Mike Masnick, "because it can grow like an avalanche--and if a mistake is made, and someone is improperly blamed or the mob lashes out without all the facts, the results can be devastating." On the other hand, he concludes, "the woman's response [Griggs's] to being caught was clearly inappropriate, and so it's difficult to be too concerned about that publication going out of business."
  • These Internet Vigilantes and Jokers Are Great  "More than just expressing indignation, enterprising Facebookers ...  quickly compiled a list of the magazine's advertisers, the better to contact them about its dubious practices," marvels Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams. "They also cleverly deduced that Gaudio was unlikely the only writer they'd ever pulled this stunt with," uncovering other examples of plagiarism. 
For the many of us who care about professionalism, courtesy, and generally not being a raging tool, the anger at Griggs and Cooks Source is understandable. And the swiftness with which astute observers were able to uncover its other terrible practices is admirable. But to be able to turn something so wrong into something so addictively funny, to render it so entertainingly foolish? That's the heart and soul of online community--coming to the defense of one badly misused individual and not just turning her plight into a worthy cause, but a celebration of all that's whimsical and silly and non-jackassed.
  • 'Congrats, Self-Righteous Internet Mob. You Killed a Magazine.'  Sarah Lacy at TechCrunch, though, comes out strongly against the human deluge.
The honest reality is two people know exactly what happened and the rest of us are going by second hand accounts. If we let anonymous mobs have this much power, the world--the real, flesh-and-blood human one, not the virtual one of Tweets, blog posts, comments and LiveJournal feeds– is going to get worse, not better. ... Click through and read that post by Griggs. If you don’t experience an ounce of empathy there’s something wrong with you. I admit I thought it was outrageous and in my head high-fived Monica for publishing the whole thing. (I still do actually.) But the difference is I didn’t send Griggs personal hate mail and I didn’t actively try to run Cooks Source out of business. Reading Griggs post affected me, because she’s a human being who made a series of really bad mistakes. Assuming Cooks Source did have some merit as a publication, shame on advertisers for being that cowed by a “scandal” everyone will forget about as soon as the next scandal shows up.
  • Is the Statement Faked?  A Cooks Source Facebook page was already revealed to be fake, so New York Magazine's Nitasha Tiku doesn't seem to be committing to saying the Griggs statement is necessarily the real deal. But "whoever hacked" the site, she says, "is pretty good at staying in character," she says, judging that the statement "strikes just the right note of oblivious self-pity."
  • Griggs Makes Sympathy Difficult  "STANDARD COOKS SOURCE DISCLAIMER: You never know," writes Gawker's Hamilton Nolan in parentheses about the authenticity of the new statement. But the statement "apparently written by Griggs" has plenty of "passive aggressiveness," he says. As for Griggs's sob story about the Internet mob? "She's right: you people are mean," concludes Nolan.
  • 'Cooks Source Killed by Mean People on the Internet'  Ernie Smith's comment at Shortformblog is clearly sarcastic. "The real lesson here," he continues, "and one that Griggs didn't admit in her own self-serving letter: Acting uneth­i­cally will do you in--in the end"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.