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Cooks Source controversy takes Internet by storm

Colette Bancroft

A couple of weeks ago, Cooks Source was an obscure little food magazine distributed in western Massachusetts.

Now it is among the greatest sources of evil in the world. Just read what Facebook posters say:

Michelle Mielweski: Cooks Source's dingo ate your baby.

Boz Cappie: Cooks Source stole the heart from the Tin Man. And ate it.

What's going on here? The huge and mysterious power of the Internet, that's what — a power that can turn a disagreement between two people into a worldwide debate.

Pennsylvania blogger Monica Gaudio, an aficionado of medieval recipes, published a story about the history of apple pie in 2005 on a website called Godecookery.com.

Recently, she heard from a friend congratulating her on the story being published in Cooks Source. Gaudio had never heard of it, much less given permission for her article to be reprinted, so she contacted the editor and, after a couple of testy e-mail exchanges, asked for an apology in print and on the magazine's Facebook page, and a donation of $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism.

Editor Judith Griggs sent an erratically spelled and punctuated response that is now immortalized across the Internet: "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! ... 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. ... 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!"

The Web, of course, is not public domain; copyright laws apply there just as they do in print.

Gaudio posted Griggs' response on her blog, other bloggers picked it up, and it turned into a firestorm. The Facebook page for Cooks Source went from about 100 friends before the dustup to more than 5,700 by Monday afternoon — most of whom signed on just to blast Griggs or to track down the sources of other articles and photographs published in Cooks Source without attribution. (Time magazine reports that the Food Network is now investigating Cooks Source's use of its copyrighted materials.)

Internet-savvy celebrities like actor Wil Wheaton and fantasy writers John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman got into the act, posting to Twitter about the fracas. On Sunday, Gaiman wrote:

"I thought I would never, ever, under any circumstances, post anything about Cooks Source again. I was wrong. http://youtu.be/YC-tVHLM99w"

The URL takes you to a hilarious YouTube video that subtitles a clip from a movie about Adolf Hitler to turn a Nazi staff meeting into a Cooks Source staff meeting, with Hitler/Griggs raving about fair use and public domain.

The magazine created an alternative Facebook page, but flamers soon invaded there. Advertisers began announcing they would drop Cooks Source. Its website is now a blank page with just a "contact us" button. Griggs has not been available for comment, beyond a Facebook post that added to the ire:

"Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologize to Monica via e-mail, but apparently it wasn't enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry — my bad!"